In his first interview following the GOP presidential debate in Ohio, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border MORE said Friday that refusing to rule out a third-party run for the White House was a strategic move.

“Well, I’m a natural negotiator and I like leverage, to be honest with you,” Trump told hosts Mika Brzezinski and Willie Geist on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“I’m running as a Republican,” he said. “I’m a front-runner obviously, so I would much rather run as a Republican, and let that be clear.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“And I just want to see if somebody gets in that I like and if I’m treated with respect, I would not run as an independent,” Trump added. “But I want to leave the option open just in case that doesn’t happen.”

Trump notably started the GOP’s first televised presidential debate on Thursday night by refusing to rule out running as a third-party candidate next year or to pledge endorsing the eventual Republican nominee.

“I cannot say [that],” Trump said. “I have to respect the person if it’s not me who wins.”

Trump had first hinted at a possible third-party run in an exclusive interview with The Hill last month, saying the odds would “absolutely” rise if he’s not treated fairly by the GOP establishment.

Polling has suggested that could be a boon to the eventual Democratic such as front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDem strategist says Clinton ‘absolutely’ has a role to play in 2020 Left-leaning journalist: Sanders would be 'formidable candidate' against Trump Clinton hits EPA for approval of pesticide dump: ‘We need bees!’ MORE, but Trump argued on Friday he has no desire to see her in the Oval Office.

“It’s not something I want to do at all,” Trump said of an independent run. “They think I’d win as an independent, you know, as you don’t need as much.”

“Hillary’s not exactly the great Abraham Lincoln,” he added. “I think she’s going to have a hard time frankly. She’s got a lot of problems going on. I don’t even know if she’s going to be the candidate necessarily.”

Trump reiterated his criticism of Fox News host Megyn Kelly for her questions targeting him during Thursday night’s contest.

Kelly interrogated the New York business mogul about his previous criticisms of women and whether they were sometimes derogatory.

“I just don’t think it is very professional,” Trump said. “If you’re going to do that to me, I think it’s great, but you have to do it to everyone else or ease up.”

“But you can’t do it to Trump,” he added. “I walked out of the room and people were saying that was really unfair.”