Trump followers unfazed by decision to skip TV debate
Property mogul boycotts seventh Republican debate over jocose press release from Fox News
Donald Trump: the US Republican presidential candidate has rekidled his dispute with Fox News.Photograph: Scott Morgan/Reuters
Donald Trump’s supporters in Iowa were unperturbed by the businessman’s decision to skip the seventh Republican debate on Thursday night, before they cast the first votes in the presidential race. He has already made enough of an impression.
“Anybody else but Trump and it would damage them,” said Bernard Rediger, a retiree from Iowa City standing in a large crowd in a University of Iowa gymnasium before his rally began on Tuesday night. “I really don’t think it will damage him.”
“We have seen enough of him in the first couple of debates,” said Dan Bly (18), standing with a group of his university friends and holding a sign saying “Hawks for Trump: Make America Great Again.”
“She should be more civil,” said Gary Kellogg (76) of Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly, whom Trump has clashed with repeatedly since he accused of her unfair treatment in the first debate in August.
The property tycoon rekindled his on-again, off-again months-long dispute with Fox News, the host of the seventh debate, after executives issued a press release mocking Trump’s decision to canvass his Twitter followers on whether he should participate.
Fox said in a statement that it had “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”.
Trump called the Fox statement a “wise-guy press release”, escalating his attack on the network after his campaign team had earlier sought Kelly’s removal as one of the three debate moderators.
The reality TV star has long threatened to boycott the debates, questioning whether he should be seeking a fee from the networks because of the amount of advertising money they made from the Trump- driven ratings. Hiss unpredictability has made the debates must-see TV, with some drawing more than 20 million viewers.
At a lively press conference in a campaign stop in Marshalltown, before his Iowa City rally, the billionaire said he would “most likely” skip the debate. His campaign released a statement later confirming he would not be participating and would instead host an event in Iowa to raise money for veterans.
“Why should the networks continue to get rich on the debates?” Mr Trump told reporters. “Why do I have to make Fox rich?”
Fox responded that “capitulating to politicians’ ultimatums about a debate moderator violates all journalistic standards, as do threats . . . we can’t give in to terrorisations towards any of our employees”.
Given Trump’s past debate threats and his mastery of the media to grab headlines in his blustering campaign, it is hard to see whether he is genuinely upset at Fox or trying to make yet more noise in a tight race to win Iowa’s Republican caucus on Monday.
The once-cordial relationship with his nearest rival, conservative Texas senator Ted Cruz, has descended into open warfare on the campaign trail in Iowa, where they are neck and neck in the polls.
Trump has been jabbing at Cruz about how he is disliked over his disruptive political style, and on his eligibility to be president given his Canadian birth. Cruz has hit back, ridiculing Trump for being a “fragile soul” by skipping the debate and is “scared to face Kelly”.
In Iowa City on Tuesday night, Trump, in his usual part- rally, part-stand-up routine, attacked Cruz again, calling him “a nervous wreck”.
“He is dropping like a rock in the ratings,” said the businessman, in a slip revealing how he may really view the political campaign. “He is dropping like a rock in the polls,” he added quickly, correcting himself.
“I love the polls. I think I made polls famous,” he boasted, drawing laughs from the large crowd. “We are number one in every poll – it is almost embarrassing. Ted Cruz, you know, the Canadian,” Trump said, again playing to the crowd’s laughter. “Ted is not happy.”