Trump takes risk by skipping Iowa debate, challenging Fox's Murdoch
Donald Trump will draw a ruptured U.S. Republican Party into a prime time TV ratings battle on Thursday night, as the billionaire presidential hopeful shuns a Fox News-sponsored debate to star in his own event at the same time.His decision to boy...
Donald Trump will draw a ruptured U.S. Republican Party into a prime time TV ratings battle on Thursday night, as the billionaire presidential hopeful shuns a Fox News-sponsored debate to star in his own event at the same time.
His decision to boycott the Republican debate in a spat with network anchor Megyn Kelly threatens to pit the large conservative base of the party's front-runner against the most powerful media force in Republican politics - in a fight that may overshadow anything that happens on the debate stage.
"The 'debate' tonight will be a total disaster," Trump quipped in a Twitter post on Thursday morning. "Low ratings with advertisers and advertising rates dropping like a rock. I hate to see this."
Trump will host a fundraiser for veterans at Drake University in Des Moines during the Fox debate, according to an invitation circulated by his campaign. A CNN source said the network would likely air parts of the Trump event live.
The move places Trump, a former reality TV star, more squarely in the spotlight even as he shuns the stage. But days before Iowa holds the first nominating contest of the Nov. 8 presidential election, it could also cost him votes. Rivals like Ted Cruz have accused the billionaire of being too afraid to face them in the debate, and while some of Trump’s fans were supportive of his decision, several undecided voters were unimpressed.
"I was on Trump's doorstep until this whole thing happened. I was disappointed," said Bryan Moon of West Des Moines, Iowa, who was attending an event for Republican Marco Rubio. "If this is how he's going to act, that 'I'm taking my ball and going home,' then that is just not going to work."
Voter Jill Ruby, another West Des Moines resident at the Rubio event, was equally put out by Trump's decision.
"Are you kidding me, a reporter ticked him off?" she said. "He’s a coward. I think it will come back and bite him. That’s not how a president acts, you don’t just run away.”
Fox News chairman Roger Ailes contacted Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, on Wednesday to gauge Trump’s seriousness about dropping out of the debate, but did not seek to change his mind, network officials said, according to The New York Times.
While Trump could cost Fox News debate-night ratings, officials at the network said Rupert Murdoch, the executive co-chairman of Fox's parent company, 21st Century Fox, gave Ailes his support over the phone, The New York Times said.
Fox News on Tuesday had released a statement that questioned how Trump would handle Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei if he could not deal with Kelly - a statement Trump said was childish.
Although Trump leads polls of Iowa Republicans over Cruz, a U.S. Senator from Texas, many voters remain undecided and are looking to the debate to aid their decision-making.
"It gives people a reason to be disappointed in him and take a look at the other candidates," said Republican strategist Charlie Black. "It could hurt him with people who might be undecided."
OPENING FOR RIVALS
Trump’s rivals view the debate, which begins at 9 p.m. EST (0200 GMT), as a chance to get their own messages across without having to compete with Trump's bomb-throwing rhetoric.
"It gives us more time at the microphone and more time to talk about answers to substantive issues that Iowa voters are demanding right now," said David Kochel, a senior adviser to Republican candidate Jeb Bush.
Early on Thursday, though, Trump tweeted: "Wow, two candidates called last night and said they want to go to my event tonight at Drake University." He did not elaborate and there was no word from other candidates.
"It is undeniable that what he's doing is denying his opponents a large audience as they make their final arguments to Iowa voters," said Eric Fehrnstrom, a Republican strategist who advised the party's 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney.
Trump's decision to stage a benefit event to help military veterans instead of participating in the debate was welcomed by some supporters.
Pat Wiltfang, 59, of Grinnell, Iowa, a lifelong Republican who had watched all the previous debates, said she was pleased with Trump's decision and would gladly skip this one.
"That's a great move," said Wiltfang, who plans to caucus for Trump. "All it is is just everyone trying to attack."
While it might be tempting for Trump's rivals to use the debate to criticize him aggressively, some Republican analysts are cautioning against a scorched-earth approach.
"It's delicate for the candidates because you have to pull back from attacking a man who is not there," said Ari Fleischer, who was White House press secretary for President George W. Bush. "It will be OK to make a passing reference or two, the fact that he’s not there. But if you try to beat him up, it won't play well because he's not there to defend himself."
Campaigning on Wednesday in West Des Moines, Cruz mocked Trump for skipping the debate, calling him a "fragile soul." He renewed his offer to Trump to debate him one-on-one.