Donald Trump said Tuesday he’ll skip the last Iowa debate before the Feb. 1 caucuses.
“They can’t toy with me like they toy with everybody else,” he told reporters. “So let them have their debate. Let’s see how they do in the ratings.”
Asked if the decision to skip the debate was final, Trump said it was “pretty close to irrevocable.” He said he was still angry that Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly remained a part of the debate. But he said he asked Fox to donate ad revenue to various charities and the network refused.
Trump said he would hold an alternative campaign event in Iowa on Thursday when the debate is scheduled.
As Thursday’s debate has neared, with his standing in the polls improving, Trump has said he might not participate if Kelly is one of those quizzing candidates.
He took offense to her question in the first debate about whether he’d displayed a pattern of sexist behavior.
“She gets out and she starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions,” Trump told CNN in August shortly after that first debate. “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever. In my opinion, she was off base.”
He later insisted that remark was not meant to refer to the news anchor’s menstrual cycle.
Kelly did not fire back at Trump, but the candidate has contended she holds a bias against him.
Fox does not appear likely to bend to Trump’s pressures.
“Megyn Kelly is an excellent journalist, and the entire network stands behind her,” Fox News chief Roger Ailes said in a statement to The Fix. “She will absolutely be on the debate stage on Thursday night.”
The network also issued 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 — 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 described the release as childish.
When news spread that Trump was pulling out, other candidates began to react. Ben Carson’s campaign issued a news release saying he’d be at the Fox debate Thursday “regardless of who is on the stage … speaking directly to the voters.”
And Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Trump’s chief rival for Iowa caucus voters, challenged the New Yorker to debate him before the Monday vote.
“If @realDonaldTrump is afraid of Megyn Kelly,” Cruz’s press secretary said on Twitter, “let’s have debate mano a mano before the Iowa caucus.” The tweet suggested conservative talk show host Mark Levin as moderator.