MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa — Republican Donald Trump on Tuesday bowed out of the final Republican presidential debate before the leadoff Iowa caucuses, saying Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly is “a lightweight.”
With 48 hours to go before the faceoff, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski confirmed Trump’s decision Tuesday evening after a press conference in which Trump lashed out at Kelly and said she’d been “toying” with him.
“He will not be participating in the Fox News debate Thursday,” Lewandowski said immediately after the press conference.
Trump, who called his decision “pretty close to irrevocable” in the press conference, said he’d hold an Iowa event at the same time as the debate to raise money for wounded veterans. Iowa hosts the nation’s opening presidential primary contest on Monday.
“With me, they’re dealing with somebody that’s a little bit different. They can’t toy with me like they toy with everybody else,” he said. “Let them have their debate and let’s see how they do with the ratings.”
He added, “Why do I have to make Fox rich?”
Trump had suggested he might skip the Fox debate earlier in the day, drawing a sarcastic statement from the television network 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,” the Fox statement said.
A Fox spokesman did not immediately respond to Trump’s decision.
The New York real estate mogul’s presence has helped produce massive ratings in the previous six Republican presidential debates. His decision leaves seven candidates to share the primetime stage on Thursday: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
“Let them have their debate. I’m going to raise money during that period of time for the wounded warriors and for the vets. Let Fox play its games,” Trump said.
He added, “I don’t’ think Iowa’s gonna care.”