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?”
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.