Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at the Roundhouse Gymnasium on Jan. 26, 2016, in Marshalltown, Iowa.
(Photo: Mary Altaffer, AP)
MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa — Protesting "wise guy" comments from Fox News about his criticism of anchor Megyn Kelly, Donald Trump said Tuesday he likely won't participate in Thursday's Republican debate — and his campaign manager said later the GOP front-runner would in fact skip the event.
"Most likely, I'm not going to be doing the debate," Trump told reporters before a rally in Marshalltown, Iowa.
Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, later told reporters that the businessman would definitely not participate.
Trump has threatened a debate boycott all week, describing Kelly as a "lightweight" who is biased against him.
Trump's criticism led to pushback from Fox News, including one statement from the network earlier Tuesday that drew the businessman's ire: “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.”
Citing that statement, Trump said that Fox is "playing games" and that he will do an event for wounded warriors instead of Thursday's debate.
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Ted Cruz, who is battling Trump for the top spot in Monday's caucuses, told talk-show host Mark Levin on Tuesday evening he would challenge the billionaire to a one-on-one debate — "away from moderators he is so afraid of."
Trump has attacked Kelly since an Aug. 6 debate in which the Fox anchor asked him about statements demeaning women. Kelly has declined to respond to Trump's attacks, but Fox has defended her and insisted she be part of the debate.
Earlier this week, Fox said: "Megyn Kelly has no conflict of interest. Donald Trump is just trying to build up the audience for Thursday's debate, for which we thank him."
Trump did not mention the debate boycott during the Marshalltown event in a high school basketball gym, a question-and-answer session with a local talk show host. While his questioner cited the prospect of a "gotcha" debate, Trump said he has no problems with Fox News, "but they have to treat people fairly."
During his news conference, Trump taunted Fox about the prospect of lower ratings for a debate without his presence.
"Let's see how they do with the debate," Trump said. "Let's see how many people watch."