Thursday's Republican presidential primary debate may be remembered more for who isn't on stage than who is. On Tuesday, front-runner and resident GOP bad boy Donald Trump announced that he wouldn't participate in the final Republican debate before the Iowa caucus. A day later, he has now clarified his intentions — and as it turns out, Trump's reason for skipping the Fox News debate may not be what many had expected.
As Fox News announced the lineup for Thursday's undercard and primetime debates on Tuesday, Trump made an announcement of his own. He declared that he wouldn't participate on the primetime stage, but rather, he would hold an event to honor wounded warriors in Iowa during the debate. His plans firmed up fast on Wednesday, when his campaign announced that there will indeed be an event Thursday evening at Drake University to support veterans. It's not the first time that Trump has talked about skipping a debate, but it will be the first time that he actually sits one out.
When Trump first announced that he wouldn't participate on Thursday, the focus (read: blame) largely shifted to moderator Megyn Kelly, who Trump has feuded with since the last Fox News debate back in August. On Wednesday, however, Trump signaled that it was Fox News as an organization — rather than Kelly — that inspired his boycott. He tweeted:
The "childishly written" and "taunting" statement that Trump referred to was put out on Tuesday, after Trump threatened to boycott the debate if Kelly was going moderate because he felt she treated him unfairly in the past. Defending Kelly and poking fun at Trump's threats, the statement said, in part:
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.
The feud between Trump and Fox News/Megyn Kelly has festered since at least August, when Trump felt unfairly questioned by Kelly at the first Republican primary debate. At the start of the debate, Kelly asked Trump about his treatment of women and whether or not he displayed the temperament of a man the country should elect as its leader. Trump used his typical anti-political correctness response at the time, but he criticized Kelly and her news bureau extensively for the question.
Throughout the feud, Trump has tweeted insulting things about Kelly, such as saying that her show The Kelly File is better off without her and calling her a "lightweight reporter." Over the weekend, Trump called on Fox News to ban Kelly from Thursday's debate because of the way she previously questioned him. Trump continued to call for Kelly's removal from the debate plan throughout the week, even though, as Kelly herself noted during a broadcast of her show this week, the debate plan was announced back in August.
Assuming all goes as planned, Trump and Kelly won't meet face-to-face on Thursday at the debate. Even still, the focus is once again consumed by Trump — and at a pivotal point in the race, no less. The Iowa caucus will take place on Monday, with the New Hampshire primary to follow just a week after.