Republican front-runner Donald Trump will not appear in Thursday’s debate because of an ongoing dispute with Fox News over co-host Megyn Kelly.
Trump will most likely have “some other event on another network,” Trump spokesman Corey Lewandowski told CNN in Iowa. He said that the alternative event would seek to raise money for wounded veterans.
Late Tuesday night, Fox issued the following statement, Politico reported.
The decision comes after Trump had said earlier that he "probably won't bother doing" the debate in Des Moines.
It culminates a week of sparring between the front-runner and Fox over Kelly, whom Trump accused of treating him unfairly in the first debate in August in Cleveland.
"Probably, I won't be doing the debate," Trump told reporters in Iowa after he was endorsed by Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. "I'm going to have something else in Iowa, do something where we raise money for the veterans and the wounded warriors.
"We're going to do something simultaneously with the debate," he said. "Most likely, I'm not going to do the debate."
Trump has insisted that Kelly not participate in Thursday’s debate, which also will be hosted by Fox News anchors Bret Baier and Chris Wallace.
Responding to Trump's decision, Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee, told Newsmax in a statement that "obviously, we would love all of the candidates to participate, but each campaign ultimately makes their own decision as to what's in their best interest."
The RNC is co-sponsoring the debate with Fox News.
In the latest salvo, Fox released a statement Tuesday making light of Trump's latest threat. It was a response to the developer's posting on Instagram of a video claiming that Kelly is biased.
"We learned from a secret back channel that the ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president," Fox said in the tongue-in-cheek statement. "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."
Trump also posted a vote asking Twitter to respond to this question: "Should I do the #GOPdebate?" As of 7 p.m. ET, "yes" votes were slightly outpacing "no" votes.
In Iowa, Trump bashed the Fox statement, calling it "wise-guy press releases" and saying that it was a key factor in his decision.
"I didn't like the fact they sent out press releases toying, talking about Putin and playing games," he said. "I don't know what games Roger Ailes [Fox's chairman and CEO] is playing, but what's wrong over there, something's wrong.
"But when they sent out that press release talking about, 'I said why are these people playing games?' Most likely I won't be doing the debate."
He said that Fox "can't toy with me right they toy with everybody else. Let them have their debate and see how they do with the ratings."
Trump called on Fox to donate earnings from the debate to veterans' organizations. "They're going to make a fortune with the debate. Let's see how many people watch.
"We'll have our own event, raise some money for the wounded warriors."
Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, called Trump's decision "a mistake."
"This is in Des Moines, Iowa," he told Erin Burnett on CNN. "Tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of Iowans are going to be watching it.
"A lot of undecided Republican voters would like to see one more time the Republicans make their case.
"Why is he walking away?" Kristol asked. "Something offended by what Roger Ailes said?
"He's that much of a crybaby that he can't get up on the stage and deal with questions from Megyn Kelly?"
Kristol was among 22 conservatives who wrote essays in the upcoming issue of the National Review opposing Trump's candidacy.
But David Gergen, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton and several Republican presidents, disagreed — accusing Fox of "stepping over a line."
"I don't think he'll be there Thursday night," he told Burnett. "I do believe had he walked away only on the Megyn Kelly question, he would look childish.
"But once this press release came out, I think it gave him the excuse not to go. He doesn't look so childish.
"From his point of view, why does he want to do the debate?" Gergen posed. "He's ahead. He's done a lot of them. He wants to sit on his lead.
"You can figure that he would like to find a way to get out of it, and I think Fox gave him an excuse to get out."
Late Tuesday night, the Trump campaign released the following statement:
"As someone who wrote one of the best-selling business books of all time, The Art of the Deal, who has built an incredible company, including some of the most valuable and iconic assets in the world, and as someone who has a personal net worth of many billions of dollars, Mr. Trump knows a bad deal when he sees one. FOX News is making tens of millions of dollars on debates, and setting ratings records (the highest in history), where as in previous years they were low-rated afterthoughts.
Unlike the very stupid, highly incompetent people running our country into the ground, Mr. Trump knows when to walk away. Roger Ailes and FOX News think they can toy with him, but Mr. Trump doesn’t play games. There have already been six debates, and according to all online debate polls including Drudge, Slate, Time Magazine, and many others, Mr. Trump has won all of them, in particular the last one. Whereas he has always been a job creator and not a debater, he nevertheless truly enjoys the debating process - and it has been very good for him, both in polls and popularity.
He will not be participating in the FOX News debate and will instead host an event in Iowa to raise money for the Veterans and Wounded Warriors, who have been treated so horribly by our all talk, no action politicians. Like running for office as an extremely successful person, this takes guts and it is the kind mentality our country needs in order to Make America Great Again."
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