The first Republican presidential debate will be held on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET in Milwaukee, and millions of Americans are expected to tune in to Fox News or one of its cable or digital subsidiaries as eight candidates vie to dethrone former President Donald Trump.
Fox News anchor Bret Baier reportedly tried hard to persuade Trump to join the debate stage, but Trump declined. Baier will be moderating the event with fellow Fox News personality Martha MacCallum.
But Fox News is not the debate’s only sponsor. And while the channel is a household name, the other two — the video-sharing service Rumble and the activist organization Young America’s Foundation — are not.
Here’s a guide to each of the sponsoring organizations.
Since its founding by right-leaning media mogul Rupert Murdoch and former GOP operative Roger Ailes in 1996, Fox News has grown into the most-watched cable television news network and the most-trusted news outlet among Republicans. Fox has hosted many past GOP debates, including the most-watched Republican presidential debate that took place in 2016.
Fox News has also drawn criticism from scientists and journalism professors, as studies have shown its inaccurate reporting on subjects such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic has led to public misinformation.
Fox has generally boosted Trump throughout his political career, frequently hosting him for deferential interviews, ignoring his scandals and attacking anyone they perceive as a threat to him. After Trump’s loss in the 2020 election, which Trump denied, Fox’s accurate reporting on the results cost the network many viewers, who turned to upstart rival right-wing networks such as Newsmax. Stars at the network panicked, including Baier and MacCallum, who argued in internal emails that Fox should depart from its normal statistical criteria for calling state results to minimize backlash from its viewership. Fox subsequently became more supportive of Trump’s evidence-free claims that his loss was caused by election fraud. In April, the network agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems $787.5 million for airing false claims that Dominion’s machines were manipulated in favor of Joe Biden.
Since the disappointing performance of Trump-backed GOP candidates in last year’s midterm elections, Fox has been seen as ambivalent toward Trump, giving ample air time and enthusiastic reporting to rivals such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But lately it has been reportedly souring on DeSantis as Trump pulls far ahead of his opponents in the polls.
Trump rejected Fox’s entreaties to join the debate, reportedly telling confidants he sees no advantage in bringing attention to his rivals who lag far behind him in the polls.
Last Thursday, Trump claimed on his Truth Social network that the show “Fox and Friends” does not “show all of the Polls [sic] where I am beating Biden, by a lot” and that they show unflattering photos of him. Trump has already taped an interview with former Fox host Tucker Carlson to air simultaneously during the debate on Wednesday, although it is not yet clear on what platform it will appear.
Launched in 2013, Rumble is essentially a right-wing version of YouTube. Conservative content creators like Dan Bongino post videos on the app, which has grown significantly since 2020. Many conservatives switched from mainstream platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, which were issuing warnings about false claims regarding the presidential election, to sites like Rumble that have more lenient content moderation standards.
“Rumble’s mission to protect free speech is not just a slogan,” said Rumble chairman and CEO Chris Pavlovski in April, when it was announced that the platform will livestream the debate. “Rumble saw record traffic and user engagement during the 2022 midterms, and we’re ready to be the premier platform for all candidates in the 2024 elections.”
According to an October 2022 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, “While 20% of U.S. adults say they have heard of Rumble, only 2% regularly get news there.”
Young America’s Foundation
Young America’s Foundation, or YAF, was originally founded in 1960 by a group of young conservatives with the support of National Review editor and conservative figurehead William F. Buckley, Jr. in response to what they perceived as a progressive bent on college campuses. Then called Young Americans for Freedom, the group laid out principles of free market economics, limited government, states rights, nationalist and anticommunist foreign policy. (Its founding manifesto, the Sharon Statement, was called a “seminal document” of the conservative movement by the New York Times in 2015.)
YAF launched programs to win supporters, sponsored conservative speakers on campus and trained conservative journalists. Its current president is former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, 55, who ran unsuccessfully against Trump for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Noting its deep-pocketed backers and older leadership, progressive critics have lambasted the group as an “astroturf” organization that engages in “nuisance lawsuits” against the left. One such lawsuit, which the group recently withdrew, accused a left-wing podcast of violating its trademark by using “Young Americans for Freedom” as the satirical name of a sponsorship level fans could pay for.
“YAF turned out to be inept as well as malignant,” wrote Jeet Heer of the Nation magazine. “The group hadn’t actually maintained its trademark on the name Young Americans for Freedom.”