Donald Trump, the former star of NBC’s hit reality show, “The Apprentice” and current Republican presidential front runner, confirmed late last night that he was backing out of Thursday’s GOP debate. The decision came after a disagreement with FOX News, which will be hosting the upcoming debate. The controversial star had originally threatened to boycott the debate because it is scheduled to be moderated by Megyn Kelly, host of “The Kelly File,” who Trump believes holds a personal bias against him that would render her unable to treat him fairly. On Saturday, Trump stated that he would consider boycotting the debate unless Kelly was removed as one of the moderators, noting that his absence would likely bring down the network’s ratings.
FOX declined to remove Kelly, but initially appeared to want to play nice with the charismatic, but demanding, GOP frontrunner and gently laughed off his statement. “Megyn Kelly has no conflict of interest,” a FOX News spokesman told reporters Monday. “Donald Trump is just trying to build up the audience for Thursday’s debate, for which we thank him.”
Trump has disliked Kelly ever since their tense exchange during the August 6 GOP debate, also moderated by Kelly, when she questioned him over his history of making “disparaging” remarks about numerous women, including his notorious feud with Rosie O’Donnell. “Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?” she asked pointedly. “And how will you answer the charge from Hilary Clinton, who is likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?”
Kelly later called the question “tough but fair,” but Trump appeared to take it personally and later bashed The Kelly File host on Twitter as a “no talent” journalist, among other things. Since then, he has accused her of unfair, bias coverage against him.
But FOX’s decision to keep Kelly as one of the moderators did not appear to be the deal-breaker for Trump, or, if it was, he was not yet ready to call their bluff. “I don’t like her and she probably doesn’t like me and that’s OK,” he said in an interview with Wolf Blitzer on Monday, adding that she better be fair but he would “probably” participate, because he liked doing the debates and wanted to do it, but he was “not 100 percent” sure.
Following that interview, a FOX spokesperson responded again, but this time, the tone was more critical. “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 all still appeared to be good yesterday morning, when Trump’s son, Eric, appeared on “FOX and Friends” and told the hosts his father would “most probably” be participating in Thursday’s debate.
But yesterday afternoon, perhaps in response to FOX’s unapologetic statement about their decision to stick with Megyn Kelly, Trump started a poll on Twitter, asking if he should show up for the debate or not. (As of last night, right before he confirmed he would not be participating, 60% of the respondents voted yes, he should show up for the debate, while 40% voted no, he should not. As of this morning, the results are 57-43%).
FOX responded in a statement hours later that appeared to be mocking the GOP frontrunner.
“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.”
It was that statement that appears to have been the deal-breaker for Trump. Hours later, he cancelled his commitment to the upcoming GOP debate, which is scheduled to be held in Iowa. In a news conference, Trump made references to the above statement as the reason he was pulling out and said FOX CEO Roger Ailes was “playing games.”
FOX was calling his bluff and Trump knew it, so he decided to call theirs. “They can’t toy with me like they toy with everybody else,” said Trump. “So let them have their debate, and let’s see how they do with the ratings.”