MARSHALLTOWN, IOWA/NEW YORK – U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump on Tuesday abruptly withdrew from a debate with party rivals this week out of anger at host Fox News, leaving the last encounter before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation nominating contest without the front-runner.
Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, told reporters after a combative news conference held by the candidate that Trump would definitely not be participating in the debate scheduled for Thursday.
During the news conference before he addressed a large crowd in Marshalltown, Iowa, Trump expressed irritation that Fox News planned to leave in place as a moderator the anchor Megyn Kelly, whose questioning of Trump at a debate last August angered him.
He also expressed displeasure at a Fox News statement on Monday night saying Trump would have to learn sooner or later that “he doesn’t get to pick the journalists” and that “we’re very surprised he’s willing to show that much fear about being questioned by Megyn Kelly.”
“I was all set to do the debate, I came here to do the debate. When they sent out the wise-guy press release done by some PR person along with (Fox News Chairman) Roger Ailes, I said: ‘Bye bye, OK.
“Let’s see how much money Fox makes without me in the debate,” he added.
Trump’s blunt-speaking candidacy has boosted ratings for the Republican presidential debates. The August debate on Fox News drew 24 million viewers, a record for a presidential primary debate and the highest nonsports telecast in cable TV history.
His boycott will leave Thursday’s debate without the leader in the crowded Republican field not only in Iowa but nationally. Ahead of Iowa’s caucuses next Monday, Trump leads in the polls over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whom Trump dismissed as a “nasty guy” who “nobody likes.”
A boycott could prove risky for Trump as Iowa Republicans seek to take one more look at who they want as their presidential candidate for the Nov. 8 election. Rivals like Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson could reap the benefits.
But Trump, a billionaire businessman and former reality TV star, said he would hold a competing event to raise money for U.S. military veterans.
Trump has been engaged in a public spat with Fox News since the network hosted the first debate and Kelly asked Trump about his treatment of woman, prompting a stream of insults from the candidate.
At the news conference on Tuesday , Trump was introduced by Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has sought tougher measures against illegal immigrants.
“Everything I believe in he’s doing and he’s going to do it as president,” said Arpaio.
Trump, pressed on his plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and deport many illegal immigrants, defended his proposal and said he would be able to persuade the U.S. Congress to go along with his plan.
Trump doubled down on his threat to stay away from an upcoming Republican debate, when he took to social media earlier Tuesday to complain about one of the moderators, Fox News correspondent Megyn Kelly.
On Tuesday afternoon, Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump) tweeted “Should I do the #GOPdebate?” with a Twitter poll and a link to an Instagram video of himself complaining about Kelly of Fox News, which is owned by Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. She is expected to moderate the Thursday debate.
“Megyn Kelly’s really biased against me,” Trump said in the video. “She knows that, I know that, everybody knows that. Do you really think she can be fair at a debate?”
That same video garnered more than 190,000 views on Facebook in roughly an hour.
The poll, which was embedded in Trump’s tweet, showed a near-split between respondents who felt he should attend the debate (52 percent) and those who felt he should skip it (48 percent). Overall, the poll had received more than 11,000 responses in the first two hours after it went live.
Fox News appeared unfazed by Trump’s comments.
“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 representative for Fox News said. “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 accused Kelly last August of asking him tougher questions than other candidates during a debate. His comments drew outcry, with some accusing the business tycoon of sexism.
Trump’s bravado led some on social media to compare the Republican candidate to a pro wrestler psyching out his competition before a big match.
“Not a chance he or she won’t show,” author Harlan Coben (@HarlanCoben) tweeted Tuesday, in reference to both Trump and Kelly. “This is straight out of pro wrestling hype handbook.”
“I always think Donald Trump reminds me of a WWE character,” tweeted Rob E\m/ (@harvesterofsoro), “then I remember he actually was.”
The WWE website lists Trump as a 2013 WWE Hall of Fame Inductee. WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon is one of just 49 people Trump follows on Twitter.
Trump leads a crowded field of Republican candidates vying to represent the party in the November election.