By Jill Colvin
The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump confirmed Aug. 20 that he will be skipping the first Republican presidential primary debate on Aug. 23 — and others as well.
“The public knows who I am & what a successful Presidency I had,” Trump wrote on his social media site. “I WILL THEREFORE NOT BE DOING THE DEBATES!” His spokesman did not immediately clarify whether he plans to boycott every primary debate or just those that have currently been scheduled.
The former president and early GOP frontrunner had said for months that he saw little upside in joining his GOP rivals on stage when they gather for the first time in Milwaukee Aug. 23, given his commanding lead in the race. And he had made clear to those he had spoken to in recent days that his opinion had not changed.
“Why would I allow people at 1 or 2 percent and 0 percent to be hitting me with questions all night?” he said in an interview in June with Fox News host Bret Baier, who will be serving as a moderator. Trump has also repeatedly criticized Fox, the host of the Aug. 23 primetime event, insisting it is a “hostile network” that he believes will not treat him fairly.
Trump had been discussing a number of debate counterprogramming options, including sitting for an interview with ex-Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has been hosting a show on the website formerly known as Twitter. The idea had been one of several alternatives Trump had floated in conversations in recent weeks. They included possibly showing up in Milwaukee at the last minute or attending but sitting in the audience and offering live commentary on his Truth Social site. He had also discussed potentially calling into different networks to draw viewers from the debate, or holding a rally instead.
The decision marks another chapter in Trump’s ongoing feud with Fox, which was once a staunch defender, but is now perceived to be more favorable to his leading rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Fox executives and hosts had lobbied Trump to attend, both privately and on the network’s airwaves. But Trump, according to a person close to him, was unswayed, believing executives would not have been wooing him if they weren’t concerned about their ratings.
A person familiar had said earlier Aug. 20 that Trump and his team had not notified the Republican National Committee of his plans.
Meanwhile, Trump’s rivals had been goading him to appear and preparing in the hopes that he might, concerned that a no-show might make them appear like second-tier candidates and deny them the opportunity to land a knockout blow against the race’s Goliath that could change the trajectory of the race.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, one of the few candidates willing to directly take on Trump, has been accusing the former president of lacking “the guts to show up” and calling him “a coward” if he doesn’t.
A super PAC supporting DeSantis released an ad in which the narrator says: “We can’t afford a nominee who is too weak to debate.” And in a posting Aug. 20 on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, DeSantis campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo said the Florida governor looked forward to sharing his vision Aug. 23 on what he’ll do as president because “no one is entitled to this nomination, including Donald Trump. You have to show up and earn it.”
Trump has pushed back on the attacks, telling Newsmax’s Eric Bolling that he saw little benefit in participating when he’s already leading by a wide margin.
“It’s not a question of guts. It’s a question of intelligence,” he said.
Trump has also said that he will not sign a pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee if he loses the nomination — a requirement set by the Republican National Committee for appearing on stage.
“Why would I sign it?” he said. “I can name three or four people that I wouldn’t support for president. So right there, there’s a problem.”
Candidates who have met the RNC qualifications for appearing at the debate include DeSantis, Christie, former vice president Mike Pence, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.
This article originally published by The Associated Press