Real-estate mogul Donald Trump just escalated threat to boycott the Fox News primary debate on Thursday.
At a Tuesday-evening press conference, the Republican presidential front-runner stressed that he “probably” would be skipping the Fox-hosted event.
“I’m going to be making a decision with Fox, but I probably won’t bother doing the debate,” Trump said in Marshalltown, Iowa.
“Most likely I won’t be doing the debate,” he added.
Trump’s chief complaint is that Fox News host Megyn Kelly will be one of the three moderators. He has complained about her supposedly biased coverage for months.
“I’m not a fan of Megyn Kelly. I think she’s a third-rate reporter. I think she frankly is not good at what she does. And I think they could do a lot better than Megyn Kelly,” Trump said, later criticising Kelly as a “total lightweight.”
Earlier in the day, Trump conducted a Twitter poll asking his followers if he should do the debate. He attached an Instagram video in which he said Kelly couldn’t moderate the debate fairly.
Fox News CEO Roger Ailes issued a statement defending Kelly, who he said would definitely be moderating the Thursday-night debate. And a Fox spokesperson also fired off a sarcastic response that wondered how a potential President Trump would expect world leaders to treat him fairly:
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 criticised the “wiseguy” statement at his press conference.
“I didn’t like the fact that they sent out press releases toying, talking about Putin, and playing games,” he said. “I don’t know what games Roger Ailes is playing, but what’s wrong over there. Something’s wrong. But when they sent out that press release, … I said, ‘Who are these people playing games?’ So most likely I won’t be doing the debate.”
Trump also said he told Fox to donate some of its ad revenue to a charity benefiting wounded veterans. He suggested that instead of attending the debate, he would be raising money on their behalf.
“Let’s see how they do with the ratings,” Trump said of the debate without his presence. “Let’s see how many people watch,” he added.
Trump has been launching raging attacks against Kelly since last August, when she was one of three moderators at the first Fox-hosted debate. Kelly infuriated Trump at the time by asking a critical question about disparaging comments he’s made about women’s looks.
Fox News told the Los Angeles Times in August that the three moderators of that debate — Kelly and Fox anchors Bret Baier and Chris Wallace — would be returning to moderate the network’s January debate. Kelly has declined to directly respond to Trump.
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