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Trump Pulls Out of Thursday Debate After Argument With Fox

Just days before the Iowa caucus, he announces boycott over “wise-guy” press release.

MAR­SHALL­TOWN, Iowa—Just days be­fore Iowa Re­pub­lic­ans cast the first bal­lots of the 2016 pres­id­en­tial race, GOP front-run­ner Don­ald Trump once again gen­er­ated a storm of pub­li­city for him­self Tues­day, an­noun­cing he would “most likely” boy­cott Thursday night’s tele­vised de­bate be­cause of a “wise-guy” press re­lease by spon­sor Fox News.

Trump has been de­mand­ing that Fox not in­clude as one of the mod­er­at­ors an­chor Me­gyn Kelly, who angered Trump at the first Re­pub­lic­an de­bate in Au­gust with a ques­tion he didn’t like. (That dis­pute es­cal­ated when Trump sug­ges­ted in an in­ter­view that Kelly was ir­rit­able that day be­cause she was men­stru­at­ing.)

Fox re­spon­ded earli­er Tues­day with a state­ment mock­ing Trump: “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,” it stated. “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.”

In a news con­fer­ence pre­ced­ing two ap­pear­ances in East Cent­ral Iowa, Trump said the Fox state­ment was the last straw. “They can’t toy with me like they toy with every­body else. So let them have their de­bate, and let’s see how they do with the rat­ings,” Trump told re­port­ers.

Trump said he would in­stead hold a fun­draiser for wounded vet­er­ans at the same time as the de­bate from Des Moines. “I was all set to do the de­bate. I came here to do the de­bate,” Trump said. “But when they sent out the wise-guy press re­leases a little while ago done by some PR per­son, along with Ro­ger Ailes, I said: ‘Bye-bye.’ OK?”

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Trump cam­paign man­ager Corey Le­wan­dowski told re­port­ers later that Trump would def­in­itely not par­ti­cip­ate in the de­bate, and that his with­draw­al was not ne­go­ti­able. He said the cam­paign had not aler­ted the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee in ad­vance—and in fact Trump had taken a call from RNC strategist Sean Spicer as he was fin­ish­ing up with re­port­ers.

Neither Le­wan­dowski nor Spicer im­me­di­ately re­spon­ded to Na­tion­al Journ­alquer­ies about the con­ver­sa­tion.

Trump’s feud with Fox over­shad­owed two en­dorse­ments his cam­paign rolled out Tues­day—from Liberty Uni­versity Pres­id­ent Jerry Fal­well Jr. and Mari­copa County, Ari­zona, sher­iff Joe Arpaio—as well as his cam­paign events dur­ing the day. Those rep­res­en­ted a re­turn to large-scale ral­lies, with at least 2,000 at­tend­ing an in­ter­view-style con­ver­sa­tion Trump staged with loc­al ra­dio show host John Jac­ob­sen at Mar­shall­town High School.

In re­cent days, Trump briefly ad­op­ted the more con­ven­tion­al ap­proach to cam­paign­ing in Iowa, with smal­ler events, in­clud­ing a vis­it to a Pizza Ranch res­taur­ant and a church ser­vice on Sunday. Rather than fly­ing back to his New York City home each night on his private jet­liner, he even spent two con­sec­ut­ive nights in Iowa, in­clud­ing one at a Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press.

How Trump’s lead in the Iowa polls will trans­late on the night of the caucuses is un­known. His turnout op­er­a­tion ap­pears to be as un­con­ven­tion­al as his cam­paign style. Polls sug­gest that a dis­pro­por­tion­ate per­cent­age of Trump’s sup­port­ers have nev­er at­ten­ded a caucus be­fore, while the vast ma­jor­ity of ac­tu­al voters at pre­vi­ous caucus nights have par­ti­cip­ated pre­vi­ously.

And while oth­er can­did­ates have staff and vo­lun­teers mak­ing more than 10,000 phone calls a day, in ad­di­tion to knock­ing on hun­dreds of doors of po­ten­tial sup­port­ers, Trump’s Iowa cam­paign does not ap­pear to be nearly as or­gan­ized.

“I would say his turnout ef­fort is weak­er than some oth­er can­did­ates,” said Jaron Vos, the chair­man of the nearby Ma­haska County Re­pub­lic­an Party.

(Image via Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com )