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Trump Boycotts Republican Debate

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Donald Trump will widen a rupture between his supporters and the Republican Party establishment on Thursday when he boycotts a presidential debate in a snub to Fox News only days before the 2016 election season starts in earnest.

The billionaire front-runner for the Republican nomination will host his own event in Iowa during the Fox News debate, likely damaging prime time TV ratings of the most powerful media force in Republican politics.

Trump withdrew from the encounter in a spat with network anchor Megyn Kelly who he accuses of treating him unfairly.

“The ‘debate’ tonight will be a total disaster,” Trump quipped in a Twitter post on Thursday morning. “Low ratings with advertisers and advertising rates dropping like a rock. I hate to see this.”

It is a risky move which could lose him votes at Monday’s Iowa caucuses, the first nominating contest in the Nov. 8 presidential election.

But Trump’s support in the polls, much of it from blue-collar males, has not wavered for months despite him insulting Mexican immigrants, threatening to deny Muslims entry to the United States and fighting with Republican establishment figures like Senator John McCain.

And Trump won backing on Thursday when two Republican candidates, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, agreed to attend his alternative event, a fundraiser for veterans at Iowa’s Drake University, during the Fox News debate.

The pair, social conservatives who have long been at odds with the more mainstream Republican establishment, had been relegated to Fox News’ “undercard” debate of the candidates with low polling which takes place earlier than the full-blown debate at 9 p.m. EST (0200 GMT).

A CNN source said the network would likely air parts of the Trump event live and other networks are expected to give it live coverage as well.

Trump announced on Twitter a dedicated website, DonaldTrumpForVets.com, for his supporters to donate funds for military veterans.

“It is my great honor to support our Veterans with you!” Trump tweeted. The website, however, did not specify any particular charity to which the funds would go.

Rivals like Senator Ted Cruz have accused real estate magnate Trump of being too afraid to face them in the debate and conservative pundits have criticized the move. While some of Trump’s fans were supportive of his decision, others worried that he was wasting an opportunity be snubbing Fox News.

“This was valuable time for him. Why is he giving this up?” said Dale Ranney, a volunteer for Trump’s campaign in South Carolina. “He could have had veteran fundraising on another night. He doesn’t have to make a stand just because he doesn’t like Megyn Kelly.”

Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh said, “Trump is busting convention and doing everything everybody says not to do.”


Source: Steve Holland and John Whitesides, http://www.reuters.com