DES MOINES: 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 late 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 lashed out at news channel, the host of the Iowa debate.
Trump claims that host Megyn Kelly, who will moderate the debate, is biased against him.
Trump’s decision to drop out heightens his feud with Fox News, its chairman Roger Ailes and Kelly.
“Roger Ailes think she can toy with him, but Trump doesn’t play games,” said the strongly worded statement, claiming that the billionaire and former reality TV star had won all the six previous debates against his Republican rivals.
Instead, the 69-year-old – who has never held elected office – said he will 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 it clear 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 said.
Kelly moderated the first debate of the campaign cycle, in August, when she asked Trump tough questions.
Afterwards Trump insinuated that Kelly treated him unfairly because she was menstruating.
“She gets out and she starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions,” Trump said after the August debate. “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
Ailes however fully supported his moderator.
“Megyn Kelly is an excellent journalist and the entire network stands behind her,” Ailes told US newspaper.
“She will absolutely be on the debate stage on Thursday night.”
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, News channel said in a tongue-in-cheek statement.
In a more serious statement, a spokesperson said that capitulating “to politicians’ ultimatums about a debate moderator violates all journalistic standards, as do threats, including the one leveled by Trump’s campaign manager” toward Kelly.
“We can’t give in to terrorizations toward any of our employees,” the statement read. Trump is welcome at the debate “and will be treated fairly … but he can’t dictate the moderators or the questions.”
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 said.
Cruz, who is virtually tied with Trump in Iowa according to a latest Quinnipiac University poll, challenged the billionaire to a one-on-one debate.