Trump pulls out of GOP debate

Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he will not moderate next month’s GOP debate sponsored by Newsmax. 

The reality televison show host’s decision came after most Republican presidential candidates declined to participate in the debate, with only Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum agreeing to appear.

{mosads}Trump said in his statement that Republicans were reluctant to appear at the debate because he was unwilling to rule out an Independent bid for the presidency.

“It is very important to me that the right Republican candidate be chosen to defeat the failed and very destructive Obama administration, but if that Republican, in my opinion, is not the right candidate, I am not willing to give up my right to run as an Independent candidate,” Trump said in a statement. “Therefore, so that there is no conflict of interest within the Republican Party, I have decided not to be the moderator of the Newsmax debate.”

But Trump could continue to play a role in the coming primary battle, promising to name his choice for the GOP nomination.

“I am going to be announcing an endorsement in some time,” Trump said to Fox Business.

Trump went on to applaud Gingrich and Santorum for their willingness to participate in the debate and say that Gingrich in particular was in “great shape” to earn his endorsement.

“I would like to thank Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum for having the courage, conviction, and confidence to immediately accept being a part of the Newsmax debate,” Trump said. “I believe this would not only have been the most watched debate, but also the most substantive and interesting debate!”

Newsmax said in a statement they were disappointed with Trump’s decision.

“We are very disappointed as we believe Mr. Trump would have made a tough and fair moderator,” Steve Coz, Newsmax’s editorial director, said. “However, we respect his view that this role may have created a conflict of interest.”

They would not say whether or not the debate would take place as scheduled, although Trump said on Fox Business he believed they would cancel.

“I don’t think so,” Trump said when asked if the debate would go on. “They really wanted me to do it.”

Some of the candidates — including Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Jon Huntsman — said that they were most concerned that Trump’s participation would delegitimize the debate. Trump subsequently attacked their candidacies as not serious.

“I think those two candidates have zero chance of being elected so it makes no difference,” Trump told NBC News. “Ron Paul says Iran should have nuclear weapons, or can have nuclear weapons and doesn’t even think in terms of Israel. I think they are joke candidates and they are doing poorly. Mr. Huntsman is doing extremely poorly in the polls and gives more air time to those that have a chance of being elected.”

Trump also said that Mitt Romney’s decision not to participate — the former Massachusetts governor cited a scheduling conflict — would affect his decision when considering who to endorse.

“I was disappointed in Mitt he didn’t have the courage to do the debate,” Trump said during his interview with Fox Business.

— This story was updated at 3:08 p.m.

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