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Donald Trump factor helps Fox News shatter ratings record

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Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate and businessman Donald Trump reacts near the end of the debate after realizing that a slew of criticisms spoken by fellow candidate and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (not pictured) were not aimed at him but at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, at the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate and businessman Donald Trump reacts near the end of the debate after realizing that a slew of criticisms spoken by fellow candidate and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (not pictured) were not aimed at him but at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, at the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate and businessman Donald Trump reacts near the end of the debate after realizing that a slew of criticisms spoken by fellow candidate and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (not pictured) were not aimed at him but at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, at the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

An estimated 24 million Americans watched Fox News Channel's prime-time debate with the top 10 Republican presidential candidates, the highest-rated broadcast in the network's history.

Thursday's debate ratings more than doubled Fox News's best ratings in the past, for election night 2012, the Nielsen company said. A debate with seven lower-polling candidates earlier in the day had 6.1 million viewers.

The debate turned into a slugfest, with front-runner Donald Trump in particular feeling the heat.

He tweeted out criticism of the network's three moderators as "not very good or professional" and retweeted a message from a supporter who called the network's Megyn Kelly a "bimbo".

Fox News chairman Roger Ailes defended his moderators, calling them "the best political debate team ever put on television".

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