Donald Trump’s campaign says he’ll skip debate

Nick Corasaniti and Maggie Haberman
Trump bows out of GOP debate

Moments after Fox News announced the lineup for Thursday's Republican debate, Donald J. Trump said Tuesday it was pretty "irrevocable" that he would skip the event, which takes place just days before the Iowa caucuses.

"Let's see how much money Fox is going to make on the debate without me," Mr. Trump said at a news conference here, where he continued to attack Megyn Kelly and the crew at Fox News, with whom he sparred at an earlier debate.

"It's time that somebody plays grown-up," he said.

Just after Mr. Trump started speaking, his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, confirmed that he would skip Thursday's event, saying, "He will not be participating in the Fox News debate on Thursday" and that "it's not under negotiation."

Mr. Trump's absence would leave the main debate stage without the candidate who leads in national polls, one who has been a big ratings draw for past debates. Mr. Trump has threatened in the past to skip debates, but his remarks Tuesday night were his strongest statement yet that he would not participate.

Officials at Fox News did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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"Obviously we would love all of the candidates to participate but each campaign ultimately makes their own decision what's in their best interest, said Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

The drama capped an increasingly heated war of words involving Mr. Trump, Ms. Kelly and Fox News as the debate neared and as Mr. Trump found himself facing the prospect of being questioned by her again before a national audience.

Mr. Trump had lashed out against Ms. Kelly back in August over her questioning of him at a debate,when she asked if previous remarks he had made were a "part of the war on women."

The clash between Mr. Trump and Fox News reignited over the last few weeks, as the network set out to defend Ms. Kelly from the repeated criticisms of Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump threw the first punch, tweeting that Ms. Kelly had a "conflict of interest" and "should not be allowed to be the moderator of the next debate."

The network was quick to respond, saying: "Megyn Kelly has no conflict of interest. Donald Trump is just trying to build up the audience for Thursday's debate, for which we thank him."

He continued to accuse Ms. Kelly of journalistic malpractice and bias, before taking the criticisms personal in an interview with CNN on Monday.

"I don't like her. She doesn't treat me fairly. I'm not a big fan of hers at all," Mr. Trump said in the interview.

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Fox responded, again defending Ms. Kelly: "Sooner or later Donald Trump, even if he's president, is going to have to learn that he doesn't get to pick the journalists — we're very surprised he's willing to show that much fear about being questioned by Megyn Kelly."

But what seemed to really draw the ire of Mr. Trump was two statements put out by the network Tuesday morning. In one, Roger Ailes, the chairman and chief executive of Fox News, personally weighed in, saying in a statement that "Megyn Kelly is an excellent journalist and the entire network stands behind her — she will absolutely be on the debate stage on Thursday night."

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A statement from the network was even harsher, invoking President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Iran's supreme leader: "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 — 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."

Mr. Trump alluded to those two statements in a news conference on Tuesday before an event here, calling them "wise guy" and adding, "I said bye-bye."

Mr. Lewandowski said that instead of attending Thursday's debate, Mr. Trump would hold an event in Iowa, raising money for wounded soldiers in the state.

Mr. Trump's main rival, Senator Ted Cruz, accused Mr. Trump of chickening out of the debate.

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"If Donald is afraid to defend his record, that speaks volumes," he said, before alluding to Mr. Putin: "I promise you, Putin is a lot scarier than Megyn Kelly."

Mr. Trump made his remarks about skipping the event right after the Fox News debate moderator Bret Baier announced the debate lineup on the program "Special Report."

Another of Mr. Trump's rivals, Senator Rand Paul, will rejoin the top tier of candidates on the stage Thursday, Fox News said, meaning eight candidates qualified to share the stage for the prime-time debate. Mr. Trump was to stand in the middle because he leads in polls nationally and in New Hampshire, and he is battling for the lead in Iowa polls against Mr. Cruz.

For Mr. Paul, who chose not to participate in the undercard debate earlier this month after failing to make the cut for the later debate, the return to the main stage reflects a recent rise in his poll numbers, particularly in New Hampshire.

His campaign sought to capitalize on the good news, fund-raising on Twitter after his inclusion was announced on Fox News.

Fox news tweet

And Jim Gilmore, the Republican presidential candidate who has failed to qualify for the undercard debate every time except during Fox News's first debate, will return to the debate stage, participating in the earlier debate with Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.