Republican presidential front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE will skip the GOP debate with Fox News on Thursday, after the billionaire businessman’s feud with the network boiled over.
At a press conference in Marshalltown, Iowa, Trump told reporters that he was likely to skip the debate because he’s incensed with how Fox News has treated him.
Trump’s campaign followed up shortly after the press conference with a statement harshly criticizing the network.
“Unlike the very stupid, highly incompetent people running our country into the ground, Mr. Trump knows when to walk away,” the statement said. “Roger Ailes and FOX News think they can toy with him, but Mr. Trump doesn’t play games.”
Trump instead threatened to hold his own event during the debate to undercut Fox’s ratings.
“He will not be participating in the FOX News debate and will instead host an event in Iowa to raise money for the Veterans and Wounded Warriors, who have been treated so horribly by our all talk, no action politicians,” the campaign wrote.
“Like running for office as an extremely successful person, this takes guts and it is the kind mentality our country needs in order to Make America Great Again.”
Fox News responded with a harsh statement of their own late Tuesday night, accusing Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski of threatening Kelly.
“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,’ ” the statement said.
“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.”
The network said Trump is still welcome at the debate, though he can’t dictate the moderators.
“Capitulating to politicians’ ultimatums about a debate moderator violates all journalistic standards,” Fox said.
The bold move by Trump comes just days before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses. Trump is in a tight race with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in the Hawkeye State.
Trump seemed to evolve towards his decision to sit out the debate over the course of a feisty press conference with reporters, saying at first: “I’m gong to be making a decision with Fox, but I probably won’t bother doing the debate.”
Trump had initially threatened to pass because he didn’t believe anchor Megyn Kelly, who will moderate Thursday’s debate, would treat him fairly. The two have been feuding since the first GOP debate in August, when she challenged him on his past statements that were derogatory towards women.
At the press conference, Trump called Kelly a “lightweight” and said she’s “not a reporter.”
But he said that the final straw was Fox News’ response to his threat to sit out the debate.
A network spokesperson mocked Trump to several media outlets, saying:
“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.”
Trump fumed over those remarks at the Tuesday press conference, calling it a “wise-guy press release” and accusing Fox chairman and CEO Roger Ailes of “playing games.”
“Most likely I’m not going to do the debate,” Trump said. “I didn’t like the fact that they sent out press releases toying, talking about Putin and playing games. I don’t know what games Roger Ailes is playing or what’s wrong over there. But when they sent out that press release talking about it – I said what are these people, playing games? So most likely I won’t be doing the debate.”
Trump said he had told Fox that he’d do the debate if they donated the proceeds to Wounded Warriors, and so instead on Thursday night, he’ll hold his own event simultaneously that will raise money for the group.
“We’ll do something else where we raise money for the veterans and Wounded Warriors,” he said. “We’re going to do something simultaneously with the debate.”
Trump said he was putting Fox on notice that they can’t treat him like just any other candidate.
“The point is with me, they’re dealing with somebody that’s a little bit different,” he said. “They can’t toy with me like they toy with everybody else so let them have their debate and let’s see how they do with their ratings.
“Why should the networks continue getting rich on these debates?” Trump continued. “Give some to the Wounded Warriors. You’re making a fortune. Let’s see how much money Fox is going to make on the debate without me, ok? Let’s see.”
Fox News did not respond to a request for comment.
- Updated at 11:10 p.m.