By Steve Holland and Ginger Gibson
MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa/IOWA CITY, Iowa (Reuters) – U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump withdrew on Tuesday from a debate with party rivals this week out of anger at host Fox News , leaving the last encounter before Iowa’s pivotal nominating contest without the front-runner.
Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, told reporters after a combative news conference held by the candidate that Trump would definitely not be participating in the debate scheduled for Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa, and co-hosted by Google.
During the news conference before he addressed a large crowd in Marshalltown, Iowa, Trump expressed irritation that Fox News planned to leave in place as a moderator the anchor Megyn Kelly, whose questioning of Trump at a debate last August angered him.
He also expressed displeasure at a Fox News statement on Monday night saying Trump would have to learn sooner or later that “he doesn’t get to pick the journalists” and that “we’re very surprised he’s willing to show that much fear about being questioned by Megyn Kelly.”
“I was all set to do the debate, I came here to do the debate. When they sent out the wise-guy press release done by some PR person along with (Fox News Chairman) Roger Ailes, I said: ‘Bye bye, OK'”
“Let’s see how much money Fox makes without me in the debate,” the billionaire businessman added.
Trump has been engaged in a public spat with Fox News since the network hosted the first debate and Kelly asked Trump about his treatment of woman, prompting a stream of insults from the candidate.
The debate is scheduled for just days before Iowa’s caucuses on Monday, the first nominating contest for the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Trump’s campaign announced that instead of participating in the debate, he would hold a fundraiser for “Veterans and Wounded Warriors.”
“We can’t give in to terrorizations toward any of our employees,” Fox said in a statement.
The network added that Trump remains welcome to participate in the Thursday night debate.
Trump’s Republican rivals quickly criticized him for opting out of the debate.
“The fact that Donald is now afraid to appear on the debate stage, that he doesn’t want his record questioned, I think that reflects a lack of respect for the men and women on Iowa,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who is in a tight race with Trump for first place in the state, said on Mark Levin’s radio program.