Exclusive Video — Donald Trump: ‘Sort of Foolish’ to Attend First GOP Debate with Polling Lead Since Fox News ‘Hostile Network’

Matthew Perdie / Breitbart News, Jack Knudsen / Breitbart News

BEDMINSTER, New Jersey — Former President Donald Trump, the leading GOP candidate for president in 2024, told Breitbart News exclusively that while he has not yet made a decision on whether or not he will attend the fast-approaching August 23 first GOP primary debate in Milwaukee, he thinks it would be “sort of foolish” and even possibly “stupid” to do so. The reason, he said, is because his significant polling lead gives him a large advantage over other candidates, but the debate moderators are from a “hostile network”—Fox News—that has overtly attempted to help failing candidates for the GOP nomination against him and those “hostile people” on stage could use the platform to try to hurt him.

Trump’s comments came during an exclusive nearly hourlong interview at his golf club here last Thursday evening, and represent the furthest the former president has as of yet gone in suggesting he probably will not attend the first debate hosted by Fox News. Trump, who enjoys the spotlight debates would provide, is weighing whether or not to go to the debate based on a number of factors. First, he does like debates and believes his performance in the 2016 GOP primary debates and later the general election debates against Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton may very well have gotten him to where is today. But, with his opponents in the GOP primary trailing him so significantly, and the moderators being Fox News anchors who are no fans of Trump, he told Breitbart News he thinks it “could be stupid” for him to appear on stage and give floundering losing candidates like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, or others any shot at him. For their part, some candidates, such as DeSantis and Christie, have been trying to goad Trump into appearing at the debate. But he seems skeptical of participating.

“I haven’t totally made a decision. I like the debates. I might be here because of the debates. I might have won against Hillary with the debates and I might have gotten the nomination because of the debates,” Trump said when asked if he has made his mind up about attending the debate. “But when you’re leading by 50 and 60 points against these people, and you have people at zero, and 1 and 2—and then they’re going to be asking me hostile questions and they probably won’t have much of an audience if I’m not in the debates according to what I read. If I’m not in the debates, then they’re not going to have a very big audience. It seems almost like it would be foolish to do them.”

Republican presidential primary candidate debate, February 25, 2016 (Bob Levey/Telemundo)

Trump pointed back to how former President Ronald Reagan, in 1980, skipped a debate—and how other candidates, including himself in 2016, have also skipped debates. He also specifically called Fox News a “hostile network” and predicted that the others on stage—the moderators like Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum as well as the other candidates—would be “hostile people” to him, meaning he would be unlikely to get any benefit out of boosting Fox News’s ratings with an appearance at the Milwaukee debate.

Presidential candidates Donald  Trump and Hillary Clinton debate on October 19, 2016, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Pool/Getty Images)

“Reagan didn’t do them. Other people didn’t do them,” Trump said. “I don’t know that I should be doing it, to be up against a hostile network with hostile people that are polling at zero. I mean, they don’t have any votes. One of them actually had a zero with an arrow pointing left. I’m trying to figure out what that means. It probably means they have too many votes, you know, like the election. But they’re at 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 maybe—and I’m in the 60s. I see a poll the other day, I’m at 78 and you have people at zero.”

Trump also noted again that he thinks it could be “foolish” or even “stupid” to appear on the debate stage given his commanding lead over the rest of the field.

“I feel it’s sort of foolish to be doing it,” Trump said. “I think it could be stupid—it could be a stupid thing to do. But I have not made up a decision. I don’t mind doing them. I like to do them—I enjoy them actually and I think they’re a good thing. But when you’re leading somebody by 50 or 60 points, I think doing it might be foolish.”

A couple of nights after this interview was taped, at a Saturday night rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, Trump went so far as to ask the audience whether he should go to the debate or not. His thousands of supporters in the crowded yelled back “no” repeatedly, and Trump thanked the audience for giving their thoughts. Since then, this week on social media Trump suggested the other candidates who are going to the debate are simply auditioning for a spot on the ticket with him in the general election, to be his vice presidential running mate.

“Let them debate so I can see who I MIGHT consider for Vice President!” Trump wrote on Truth Social.

It is possible that if Trump does indeed decide to forgo attending the debate, he could attempt to counter-program it with a separate event of his own. Vanity Fair’s Gabe Sherman reported in mid-July that former Fox News host Tucker Carlson may do a separate event with Trump at the same time. Trump did not acknowledge that idea when Breitbart News asked about it in the debate question during the interview, but sources familiar with the matter say something like that has been discussed. Whether it happens or not remains to be seen. For what it’s worth, though, Carlson’s unceremonious ouster from Fox News has continued to haunt the network as disarray and confusion have crept into the place while Carlson’s star power only grows stronger in his exile.

The New York Times’s Jonathan Swan and Maggie Haberman reported in May that Trump could sit out not just the first debate but possibly the second one too. The second debate will be held in September at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Southern California. “Mr. Trump has told advisers that the second debate is a nonstarter for him because it will be held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library,” Swan and Haberman wrote.

“The chairman of the library’s board of trustees, Frederick J. Ryan Jr., also serves as the publisher and chief executive officer of The Washington Post, a fact that Mr. Trump regularly brings up,” they continued. “Mr. Trump is also sour that the Reagan library has invited numerous other leading Republicans to speak at its events over the past two years, including his presidential rival Mr. DeSantis, but has never extended an invitation to Mr. Trump, according to two people familiar with his thinking.”

That Reagan Library speaking series has also seen failed Never Trump Republicans like former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY)—who lost her primary by dozens of points after she went rogue by joining then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Democrat-run January 6 Committee—to address the forum.

Despite Trump’s continued criticism of the debate, the lobbying by special interests who desperately want Trump on stage to go continues. Swan and Haberman reported on Wednesday that top Fox News executives dined with Trump at his Bedminster golf club Tuesday evening to pressure him to go to the debate.

“Shortly after learning he was being indicted a third time, former President Donald J. Trump had a private dinner with the top leadership at Fox News as they lobbied him to attend the first Republican presidential primary debate this month, three people familiar with the event said,” they wrote in the Times. “The dinner between Mr. Trump, the Fox News president Jay Wallace and the network’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, was held in a private dining room at Mr. Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J., according to two of the people familiar with the event. The dinner was scheduled before the indictment news.”

More from Trump’s latest exclusive interview with Breitbart News is forthcoming.


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