The Republican front-runner Donald Trump has bowed out of the final Republican presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses, claiming that the Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly is “a lightweight”.
Just 48 hours before the face-off, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski confirmed Mr Trump’s decision after a press conference at which Mr Trump said Ms Kelly had been “toying” with him.
“He will not be participating,” Mr Lewandowski said. Mr Trump, who called his decision “pretty close to irrevocable”, said he would hold an Iowa event at the same time as the debate to raise money for wounded veterans. Iowa hosts America’s opening presidential nominating contest on Monday.
“With me, they’re dealing with somebody that’s a little bit different. They can’t toy with me like they toy with everybody else,” Mr Trump said. “Let them have their debate and let’s see how they do with the ratings. Why do I have to make Fox rich?”
The Republican National Committee (RNC) said the decision was up to Mr Trump.
“Obviously we would love all of the candidates to participate but each campaign ultimately makes their own decision what’s in their best interest,” said RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer.
Mr Trump had suggested he might skip the Fox debate earlier in the day, drawing a sarcastic statement from the TV network 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 Fox statement said.
A Fox spokesman did not immediately respond to Mr Trump’s decision.
The property mogul’s presence has helped produce massive ratings in the previous six Republican debates. His decision leaves seven candidates to share the stage tomorrow: Texas senator Ted Cruz, Florida senator Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Ohio governor John Kasich and Kentucky senator Rand Paul.
“Let them have their debate. I’m going to raise money for the wounded warriors and for the vets. Let Fox play its games,” Trump said.
He added, “I don’t think Iowa’s gonna care.”