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Trump Won't Participate In Fox News Debate; Feud With Network Escalates


Donald Trump says he's out, not out of the presidential race but out of the final Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses. Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: At a press conference in Marshalltown yesterday, Trump did what he does best. He brawled with Fox News, Ted Cruz and the traveling press corps. He berated a reporter for failing to read in full a quote of his, and he slashed at Ted Cruz, who is battling him for first place in Iowa.


DONALD TRUMP: You have a guy like Ted Cruz who's nervous as can be. I looked at him the other day. He's a wreck. He's a nervous wreck. His polls are going down the tubes.

LIASSON: This was classic Trump, always unplugged. He explained his decision not to show up for Thursday night's Fox News debate, the result of a long-running feud with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, who Trump claims has treated him unfairly. The spat goes back to the first debate in August when Kelly questioned Trump about some of the insulting statements he made about women. Trump demanded Kelly be dropped from the moderators panel, but Fox stood by her.


TRUMP: They can't toy with me like they toy with everybody else.

LIASSON: Trump, who is leading in the polls nationally and in every early primary and caucus state, was particularly incensed by press releases Fox has sent out, taunting him as being afraid to be questioned by Kelly. One release said, quote, "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."


TRUMP: When they sent out the wise guy press releases a little while ago done by some PR person along with Roger Ailes, I said, bye bye.

LIASSON: Trump said he would hold his own event Thursday night to raise money for wounded warriors and veterans. He's betting that the ratings bonanza his candidacy has brought to cable television will evaporate in his absence.


TRUMP: Let's see how much money Fox is going to make on the debate without me, OK?

LIASSON: Trump has threatened to boycott debates in the past but has ended up participating. This time, Trump himself says his decision was, quote, "pretty close to irrevocable." Trump's rivals blasted him for ducking. Chris Christie said voters want a fighter who shows up. Jeb Bush asked if Trump couldn't handle tough questions from Megyn Kelly, how could he handle Hillary Clinton? And here's Ted Cruz on the Mark Levin radio show.


TED CRUZ: If Donald is afraid of Megyn Kelly, I would like to invite him on your show to participate in a one-on-one debate between me and Donald, mano-a-mano (ph).

LIASSON: Yesterday, Trump also received two new endorsements, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. and immigration hardliner Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz. And at his rally in Marshalltown, Trump invited his supporters to imagine what it would be like when he was president.


TRUMP: We're going to be properly led, and we're going to be so proud of our country. After a year, you're going to say, wow, that will happen, and it'll happen pretty quickly.


TRUMP: So I hope you can get out and caucus on February 1. And I love you all.

LIASSON: Previous debates haven't affected Trump's poll numbers one way or another, and it's not clear what a Trump-less (ph) debate might do to the Republican race. But simply by pulling out, Trump has once again dominated the news cycle and reminded everyone that this year's Republican primary is all about him. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Iowa.

INSKEEP: And Mara, of course, is also a contributor to Fox News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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