- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Businessman Donald Trump threw a curve ball at his GOP presidential rivals and the rest of the political world Tuesday by announcing that he “most likely” will skip the Fox News sponsored debate Thursday in Iowa, following through on a threat that he would not take part in the final Republican showdown before the caucuses because of moderator bias.

“I probably won’t bother doing the debate,” Mr. Trump said during a press conference before a campaign event in Marshalltown, Iowa. He called Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly “a lightweight” and said she’d been toying with him.

Immediately after the event, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said Mr. Trump would not participate in the debate.

A Fox spokesman did not immediately respond to Mr. Trump’s decision, but earlier in the day after the GOP front-runner hinted at skipping the debate and asked his Twitter followers to chime in, the network issued a sarcastic statement 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.

Mr. Trump posted a poll on his Twitter page on Tuesday asking “Should I do the #GOPDebate?” With 38,098 votes tallied, 52 percent of respondents had answered “Yes” and 48 percent had answered “No.”

Mr. Trump said that he will likely hold his own event at the same time as the debate Thursday somewhere in Iowa to raise money for military veterans and “wounded warriors.”

The New York billionaire has long maintained that moderator Ms. Kelly treated him unfairly in the opening Fox News sponsored debate in August in Cleveland and he reiterated the point Tuesday, saying he is “not a fan” of the Fox host.

“With me they are dealing with someone who is a little bit different,” Mr. Trump said. “They can’t toy with me like they can toy with everybody else.”

Mr. Trump’s announcement came at a campaign stop where he received the endorsement of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, one of the most vocal opponents of illegal immigrants, and not long after announcing that Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of Liberty University, also was officially backing him.

Mr. Trump’s campaign has been anything but conventional, and with less than week to go before the Iowa caucuses he is locked in a tight race in the polls with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

On the Democratic side Tuesday, the Democratic National Committee it was open to the idea of adding another debate to its primary schedule, and would revisit the idea in the middle of February.

DNC officials are still reluctant, saying they’re comfortable with the total of six that they planned, but under intense pressure from progressive activists and supporters of Sen. Bernard Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, the party appears to be rethinking.

“We have no plans to sanction any further debates before the upcoming First in the Nation caucuses and primary, but will reconvene with our campaigns after those two contests to review our schedule,” the DNC said in a statement.

MSNBC and the Union Leader newspaper in Manchester, New Hampshire, forced the issue this week by announcing an effort to host an unsanctioned debate next week, after Iowa’s caucuses on Monday but before New Hampshire’s primary on Feb. 9.

It was unclear Tuesday whether the three Democratic candidates would all agree to that debate, but liberal groups were urging the campaigns to sign up.

“We strongly encourage every Democratic candidate to leap at the opportunity to add an additional debate to the absurdly limited official DNC schedule and work to find other opportunities to make the presidential contest the fierce competition of progressive ideas that Democrats deserve,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America.

Liberal groups argue that the schedule of six debates was intended to prevent voters from getting a good look at candidates challenging Hillary Clinton, wife of a former president and the former top diplomat for President Obama, who installed current DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Not only the small number, but the timing of the debates, have irked Mr. Sanders’ supporters.

Of four debates held so far, three were scheduled for weekend nights. The next two — a Feb. 11 debate in Milwaukee and a March 9 debate in Miami — are on weeknights.

The candidates are also doing televised forums such as this week’s two-hour CNN affair, where a host and audience members asked prepared questions to the candidates individually. The three didn’t appear on stage with each other.

Republicans have scheduled twice as many debates as Democrats, for a field that at one point ran to 16 candidates.

Ms. Wasserman Schultz has rejected claims that she’s trying to aid Mrs. Clinton, but had been reluctant to add more debates, saying voters are getting enough of a look at the candidates.

The DNC said its October debate set a record for a Democratic debate audience with 15.8 million viewers, and the January debate drew 12.5 million when web viewership is included.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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