Donald Trump’s campaign declared Tuesday that the Republican presidential front-runner is boycotting Thursday’s GOP debate hosted by Fox News.
The announcement went off like a bombshell in the presidential race, drawing condemnation from Fox and mockery from Trump’s Republican opponents. But at a Trump rally in Iowa City, voters met the news with a mix of skepticism and amusement.
Jim Glasgow, a plumber from Iowa City who is supporting Trump, called the move a “marketing ploy” by Trump to get more viewers to tune in.
“Oh, I think it’s all hype. It’s his way of generating interest in the debate and upping the number of people that will watch,” Glasgow, 66, said, predicting that Trump will ultimately participate. “Oh yeah, I think he’ll be there.”
Another Trump supporter shrugged when asked about the Fox News controversy, saying presidential debates are more important for the media than voters.
“I don’t think it’s important that he does the debate,” said Todd Stewart, 45, who works in manufacturing sales in Kansas City, Missouri.
Stewart said he didn’t think Trump’s participation – or lack thereof – in this week’s highly anticipated debate would affect the real estate developer’s standing in the polls, and that he personally had no plans to tune in, regardless of whether or not Trump was on stage.
Trump’s decision to skip Thursday’s prime-time debate – the last one before the Iowa caucuses on February 1 – came Tuesday as the candidate’s long-running feud with Fox host Megyn Kelly quickly escalated. Trump vented in an Instagram video that Kelly, the moderator of this week’s debate, was “biased” against him.
“Do you really think she can be fair at a debate?” Trump said in the video.
Fox News’s PR operation responded by releasing a playful statement that read: “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 – 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.”
Clearly angered by this response, Trump held a press conference in Marshalltown, where he shared his decision to skip the debate. His campaign manager Corey Lewandoswki insisted afterwards that Trump’s decision was final, and that the campaign plans to hold a rivaling event in Iowa on Thursday to “raise money for wounded warriors.”
“And Fox will go from probably having 24 million viewers to about 2 million,” Lewandowki said.
Meanwhile, some others attending Trump’s rally at the University of Iowa were eager to come to Trump’s defense.
Seka Kaplarevic, a small business owner from Chicago who said she is “90%” likely to vote for Trump, said Trump had the “right to boycott” and that Fox News should appease Trump by replacing Kelly as the moderator.
“Why can’t they give him someone else?” Kaplarevic, 47, said. “Are you telling me that Fox only has Megyn? Is that the only person available?”