(Reuters) – Former U.S. President Donald Trump said he might not participate in the Republican Party’s first 2024 election primary debate in August and may hold an alternative event, citing his lead in opinion polls and what he claims is the hosting network’s bias against him.
In a telephone interview with Reuters, Trump said “possibly not” when asked if he would be at the debate, to be hosted by Fox News in Milwaukee on Aug. 23.
The debate will be the first chance for voters to see the Republican presidential candidates square off against each other.
Trump called Fox News, which he has criticized for not covering his campaign events, a “hostile network” and said he saw little merit in debating candidates like former New Jersey governor Chris Christie who are far behind him in polling.
“Why would I give them time to make statements? Why would I do that when I’m leading them by 50 points and 60 points,” Trump said.
National polls have consistently showed him to be the front-runner in the Republican primary race by a wide margin.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll earlier this month showed that some 43% of self-identified Republicans said Trump was their preferred candidate, compared to 22% who picked Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Christie was at 2%.
Trump has drawn some criticism for previously suggesting he may skip the debate.
Christie, a former Trump ally who is now one of his fiercest critics, has accused the former president of being afraid to join the debates out of fear of losing his lead in the race.
Trump said he was entertaining offers to hold a separate event during the debate or later in the same evening.
“We’ve had a lot of offers, whether it’s a rally or whether it’s an interview by somebody else,” he said. “Not to be braggadocious but the debate will not be a very exciting one if I’m not there.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Nathan Layne, Kanishka Singh and Jason Lange; Editing by Kieran Murray and Grant McCool)
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