, DES MOINES, USA, Jan 27 – White House hopeful Donald Trump will not participate in Thursday’s Republican debate, bowing out of a nationally televised showdown just four days before Iowa kicks off the presidential nomination process.
Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, publicly toyed with the idea of pulling out of the debate during a campaign event Tuesday in Iowa, where he said “probably I won’t be doing the debate.”
That was confirmed soon after when his campaign said in a typically bombastic statement that, “Mr. Trump knows a bad deal when he sees one,” and lashing out at Fox News, the host of the Iowa debate and whose moderator Megyn Kelly has been accused by Trump of bias against him.
Trump’s decision to drop out heightens his feud with Fox News, its chairman Roger Ailes and Kelly.
“Roger Ailes and FOX News think they can toy with him, but Mr. Trump doesn’t play games,” added the strongly worded statement, saying that the billionaire former reality TV star had won all the six previous debates against his Republican rivals.
Instead of debating, the 69-year-old — who has never held elected office — will instead host an event to raise money for military veterans.
Trump, who has called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States and accused Mexico of sending rapists into America — made plain earlier in the day that he had little time for Kelly.
“I don’t think she can treat me fairly. And I’m not a big fan of hers,” Trump told CNN.
Kelly moderated the first debate of the campaign cycle, in August, when she was tough on Trump.
Afterwards Trump suggested Kelly treated him unfairly because she was menstruating.
Ailes, in what looked increasingly like a game of high-powered chicken, gave his moderator his full support.
“Megyn Kelly is an excellent journalist and the entire network stands behind her,” Ailes told The Washington Post.
“She will absolutely be on the debate stage on Thursday night.”
– Fox mocks back –
Refusing to back down, Fox intensified the standoff by mocking Trump, who had asked his five million Twitter followers to weigh in on whether or not he should attend the debate.
“A nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings” with the leaders of Iran and Russia, Fox News said in a tongue-in-cheek statement.
Trump’s absence would leave a huge hole on the Des Moines stage, where fellow Republicans including Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Florida governor Jeb Bush will be making their final pitch to Iowa voters.
Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler blasted Trump’s decision as “erratic” and foolish behavior from a presidential hopeful, especially considering a large segment of voters say they have not finalized their support for a candidate.
Bailing out on a debate “because he has a problem with the host is just childish,” Tyler told CNN.
Cruz, who is virtually tied with Trump in Iowa, according to a latest Quinnipiac University poll, has challenged the slight frontrunner to a one-on-one debate after Trump said he was pulling out of the televised event.