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Trump to skip first GOP debate for Tucker Carlson interview, report says

Former president claims no need for him to debate given poll numbers and record

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Friday 18 August 2023 22:21 BST
Expert questions whether Donald Trump is afraid of Chris Christie after skipping debate

Donald Trump will skip the first Republican debate of the 2024 primaries and attempt to upstage his rivals for the party’s nomination by instead sitting down for an interview with Tucker Carlson, according to a report.

Citing multiple people briefed on the matter, The New York Times reports that the former president made up his mind to miss the Fox News-hosted GOP debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

On Thursday he again claimed on his Truth Social platform that there was no need for him to debate the other candidates as he was polling so far ahead of them, but was still ambiguous as to his plans might actually be.

“Reagan didn’t do it, and neither did others,” he wrote. “People know my Record, one of the BEST EVER, so why would I Debate? I’M YOUR MAN. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

The Times notes that missing the debate, sponsored by the Republican National Committee and hosted by Fox News, is a major affront to both organisations.

Rumours of a move by Mr Trump to arrange for counterprogramming against the debate were circulating on Thursday, but the timing of the interview with Carlson is not yet known.

Going up directly against the debate would be viewed as an especially hostile act against both the RNC and Fox News, which the former president has been criticising repeatedly on Truth Social.

As recently as yesterday he complained about both their coverage of polling in the primaries and the use of “absolutely worst pictures of me, especially the big ‘orange’ one with my chin pulled way back”.

Fox News talent and executives have been personally lobbying Mr Trump to participate in the debate.

RNC chair Ronna McDaniel has also travelled to the former president’s summer home at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, to urge him to take part.

Until today’s reporting it was believed that Mr Trump would eventually agree to appear on the debate stage. Those beliefs appear to have been quashed by today’s reporting.

On Thursday’s edition of Morning Joe on MSNBC there was a spirited debate as to whether the former president might decide to miss the first televised confrontation with his GOP rivals because he is scared of a confrontation with Chris Christie.

The former New Jersey governor is the most vocal opponent of Mr Trump’s in the Republican field of candidates, aggressively denouncing him at almost every opportunity for his actions relating to allegedly trying to overturn the 2020 election to the multiple criminal proceedings against him.

Mr Trump’s apparent decision to skip the debate in Milwaukee comes on the heels of his fourth criminal indictment in as many months in Fulton County, Georgia.

Conservative political writer Matt Lewis argued on Morning Joe that the “ultimate flex” for the former president would be to turn himself in to the authorities in Georgia and then show up at the debate proving he can “walk and chew gum at the same time” while satisfying his compulsive need for attention.

In addition to meeting polling and fundraising milestones to take part in the debate, candidates also have to pledge to support the eventual nominee, something several candidates, including Mr Trump and Mr Christie, have appeared sceptical of.

In addition to the former president and Mr Christie, the other candidates who have qualified to appear on the debate stage are Florida governor Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, South Carolina senator Tim Scott, North Dakota governor Doug Burgum, former vice president Mike Pence, and as of Friday, Miami mayor Francis Suarez.

The debate airs live on Wednesday 23 August at 9pm ET on the Fox News Channel and their other platforms and will be hosted by Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum.

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