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Story highlights

Ted Cruz on Wednesday mocked Donald Trump for bowing out of a debate next week in Salt Lake City

The Texas senator vowed to call out the GOP front-runner at a gathering of a major pro-Israel group

(CNN) —  

Ted Cruz on Wednesday mocked Donald Trump for bowing out of a debate next week in Salt Lake City, and the Texas senator vowed to call out the GOP front-runner at a gathering of a major pro-Israel lobby group next week.

Trump said earlier in the day that he would not participate in the Fox News debate in Utah on Monday, and John Kasich quickly said that he wouldn’t attend if Trump didn’t. Later on Wednesday, Fox News formally canceled the event.

Trump said he would use his time instead on Monday to address a conference hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the prominent pro-Israel group. Cruz’s campaign said in a statement Wednesday that Cruz would use his time at the same conference to “highlight Trump’s positions – or lack thereof – in front of the thousands of AIPAC members in attendance.”

“Let’s be intellectually honest about what’s going on here – Donald Trump is scared to debate Ted Cruz next week,” Cruz spokesman Ron Nehring said in a statement. “Perhaps Mr. Trump is unable to speak for more than one minute about any given topic because of his shallow understanding of basic policies, or perhaps he is scared of voters learning the truth – that he has spent his entire adult life promoting liberal positions completely opposite of the conservative platform that he has campaigned on.”

“Mr. Trump, if you won’t debate in Utah, we’ll bring the debate to you,” Nehring added.

Appearing later Wednesday evening on Fox News, Cruz charged that Trump specifically chose to speak at AIPAC’s conference on Monday, rather than on a different date on the multi-day conference, in order to create a reason to miss the Salt Lake square off.

“His excuse is silliness,” Cruz told Megyn Kelly. “He chose to speak right in the middle of the debate, because he’s scared of debates.”

Trump previously pulled out of the final debate before the Iowa caucuses, also hosted by Fox News. Cruz mocked Trump and challenged him to a one-on-one debate – which the billionaire businessman did not accept. Cruz then defeated him in Iowa, which Trump suggested could have been tied to his decision to skip the debate.