5TH UPDATE, 7:05 AM: The back-and-forth jabs continue in the battle between Donald Trump and Fox News. The Donald took to his per-usual overnight Twitter feed to respond to Fox News’ latest statement on the brouhaha ahead of Thursday’s GOP debate on Fox News, calling the network’s response a “disgrace.” He also took another hit at Megyn Kelly.
4TH UPDATE, 7:55 PM, TUESDAY: Fox News has hit back in its battle with GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump, saying, “He can’t dictate the moderators or the questions.” Still, the network said he’d be welcome at Thursday’s debate if he changes his mind about skipping it. Here’s a detailed and — compared to this morning’s press releases that riled the billionaire — much more serious statement to Deadline from a Fox News spokesperson:
“As many of our viewers know, Fox News is hosting a sanctioned debate in Des Moines, Iowa on Thursday night, three days before the first votes of the 2016 election are cast in the Iowa Caucus. Donald Trump is refusing to debate seven of his fellow presidential candidates on stage that night, which is near unprecedented. We’re not sure how Iowans are going to feel about him walking away from them at the last minute, but it should be clear to the American public by now that this is rooted in one thing – Megyn Kelly, whom he has viciously attacked since August and has now spent four days demanding be removed from the debate stage. Capitulating to politicians’ ultimatums about a debate moderator violates all journalistic standards, as do threats, including the one leveled by Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski toward Megyn Kelly. In a call on Saturday with a Fox News executive, Lewandowski stated that Megyn had a ‘rough couple of days after that last debate’ and he ‘would hate to have her go through that again.’ Lewandowski was warned not to level any more threats, but he continued to do so. We can’t give in to terrorizations toward any of our employees. Trump is still welcome at Thursday night’s debate and will be treated fairly, just as he has been during his 132 appearances on Fox News & Fox Business, but he can’t dictate the moderators or the questions.”
3RD UPDATE, 6:40 PM: OK, now it’s official. Donald Trump’s campaign just tweeted a statement through his official account that he absolutely, positively, once-and-for-all “will not be participating in the Fox News debate” on Thursday:
2ND UPDATE, 6:10 PM: Megyn Kelly led tonight’s The Kelly File by rehashing her feud with the Republican front-runner, dating to their dust-up during Fox News’ GOP debate in August. She is among Thursday’s moderators as well. Fox News Chairman and CEO issued a statement tonight, which Kelly read on the air: “Megyn Kelly is an excellent journalist and the entire network stands behind her. She will absolutely be on the stage Thursday night.”
Then, reporting from Des Moines, IA, Fox News’ chief political correspondent Carl Cameron said, “It is unprecedented for a front-running candidate in either party to suggest they’ll be a no-show at a debate four days before the first-in-the-nation caucuses. It’s something that no one could have imagined prior to Donald Trump’s candidacy.”
Meanwhile, Fox News today released the lineup for Thursday main event and not-ready-for-primetime Republican debate. The announcement was made before Trump said he would skip it, so he is at the center podium. Notable is Rand Paul’s inclusion in the big kids’ debate, after he was demoted to the kids table for the January 14 event and ultimately boycotted. Instead, he went on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah. Here’s the lineup for Thursday’s big debate:
Republican White House hopeful Ted Cruz earlier today issued a challenge to debate Trump head-to-head without moderators. “I think anyone running for the president of the United States owes it to the people of Iowa to have the humility to come in front of you,” the Texas senator said at a rally. “To make the case, to answer the hard questions, to look you in the eyes. This is a job interview. The president of the United States works for each and every one of you.”
UPDATE, 4:35 PM: Donald Trump appears to be calling Fox News’ bluff. Or is he? The GOP front-runner just told reporters “probably I won’t be doing” the network’s debate on Thursday. But then his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski held a small, impromptu news conference after Trump’s presser to say the candidate definitely will not attend. “Mr. Trump will not be participating in the Fox debate,” he told reporters. “It is not under negotiation. He is not going to be doing it. Instead, he’ll be raising money for Wounded Warriors.”
Trump’s office confirmed what Lewandowski said — kinda. “At this point Mr. Trump is not participating in Thursday’s debate,” an official close to the Trump campaign told Deadline.
That said, there’s still no official word from Trump himself — meaning he hasn’t tweeted about it.
“I’m going to have something else in Iowa,” Trump said at the earlier news conference. “We’ll do something where we raise money for the veterans and the wounded warriors. We’re going to do something simultaneously with the debate. But most likely I’m not going to do the debate.”
He added: “Now let’s see how many people watch. … I was all set to do the debate. I came here [to Iowa] to do the debate. When [Fox News] sent out the wiseguy press releases a little while ago, done by some PR person — along with Roger Ailes — I said, ‘Bye-bye.'”
Trump was on Fox News’ Special Report With Bret Baier ths afternoon, and the host ended a 10-minute interview by asking, “Mr. Trump, we’ll see you Thursday night, right?” To which the candidate replied with a stern face: “We’ll be talking — let’s see. Frankly, I didn’t like the press releases that Fox put out. It’s like they’re playing games. I don’t like it when people play games with me, and they’re playing games.” Baier then said, “Well, we’ll all be there, and we’ll have a podium for you.” Trump shot back before Baier had finished, saying: “All right, you’ll be there. I’m sure you’ll be there.”
This sets up a standoff between Trump and Fox News, and neither is likely to back down and lose face. As of 5:15 PM, Bill O’Reilly hadn’t mentioned the flap on The O’Reilly Factor, instead airing an interview with GOP White House hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz. Stay tuned.
PREVIOUSLY, 1:16 PM: Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: “Megyn Kelly’s really biased against me — she knows that, I know that, everybody knows that.” Yes, that’s Donald Trump griping again about the Fox News star who moderated the network’s first GOP debate in August and is set for the same role in Thursday’s faceoff. So, once again, the Donald is threatening to boycott. This time, he took his case directly to his fans, er, supporters via an Instagram plea:
Fox News not only took the bait, it ran with it. “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 network spokesman said regarding the social media “poll.” “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.”
But nobody puts Trumpy in a corner. Will the erstwhile reality star really take his ratings ball and go home rather than face Kelly’s ridicule? Of course not. But he, she and Fox News are happy to give breathless reporters something to write about in the 48 hours before the next debate.