Donald J. Trump said after Fox News announced the lineup for Thursday’s Republican debate 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,” Trump said at a news conference, where he continued to attack Megyn Kelly and the crew at Fox News, with whom he sparred at an earlier debate. He has indicated that he may stage his own solo event opposite the Fox News telecast. This is another first for Trump who continues to garner most of the media coverage of the GOP presidential race. If he fails to appear, he would clearly represent the “elephant in the room.”
Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski confirmed the frontrunner will not be attending. “He will not be participating in the Fox News debate on Thursday. It’s not under negotiation,” he said. “We’ll have an event here in Iowa, with potentially another network, to raise money for Wounded Warriors and Fox will go from having probably 24 million viewers for the debate to, you know, 2 million viewers,” Lewandowski added.
In his press conference explaining why he wasn’t going to participate in Thursday’s debate, Trump singled out network chairman Roger Ailes and a press statement that was sent out earlier Tuesday by the network’s press team. That statement read: “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.”
The network Tuesday night accused Lewandowski of threatening FNC host and debate moderator Kelly. In a statement, a Fox News spokesperson said, “In a call on Saturday with a Fox News executive, Lewandowski stated that Megyn had a ‘rough couple of days after that last debate’ and he ‘would hate to have her go through that again.’ Lewandowski was warned not to level any more threats, but he continued to do so. We can’t give in to terrorizations toward any of our employees.” On her show Tuesday, Kelly said, “Trump is not used to not controlling things as the chief executive of a large organization… But the truth is, he doesn’t get to control the media.”
Earlier Tuesday, Fox News released the lineup for Thursday night’s debate, and Rand Paul—who vowed he’d be part of the prime-time debate—has indeed qualified. Based on national, Iowa and New Hampshire polls released before 5 p.m. ET Tuesday—and not including Trump—the candidates on the main stage at 9 p.m. ET will be Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Paul. The 7 p.m. ET undercard debate will feature four candidates who received a minimum of 1 percent support in at least one recent national poll. Those candidates are Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Jim Gilmore.