Exclusive-Trump says he could skip first Republican debate and host rival event

(Reuters) – Former U.S. President Donald Trump said he may sit out the first primary debate of the Republican Party’s 2024 election in August and may hold an alternative event, citing his lead in opinion polls and what he claims is the hosting network’s bias against him.

In a phone interview with Reuters, Trump said “maybe not” when asked if he would participate in the debate, which will be hosted by Fox News in Milwaukee on August 23.

The debate will be voters’ first chance to see the Republican presidential candidates go head-to-head.

Trump called Fox News, which he criticized for not covering his campaign events, a ‘hostile network’ and said he saw little merit in debating candidates like former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie , who are far behind him in the polls.

“Why would I give them time to make statements? Why would I do that when I’m leading them by 50 points and 60 points,” Trump said.

National polls have consistently shown him to be the favorite in the Republican primary race by a wide margin.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll earlier this month showed about 43% of self-identified Republicans said Trump was their preferred candidate, compared with 22% who chose Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Christie was at 2%.

Trump drew criticism for previously suggesting he could skip the debate.

Christie, a former Trump ally who is now one of his fiercest critics, accused the former president of being afraid to join the proceedings for fear of losing his lead in the race.

Trump said he was getting offers to host a separate event during the debate or later that same evening.

“We had a lot of offers, whether it was a rally or an interview by someone else,” he said. “I don’t want to brag, but the debate won’t be very exciting if I’m not here.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Nathan Layne, Kanishka Singh and Jason Lange; Editing by Kieran Murray and Grant McCool)

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