Former President Trump confirmed Sunday that he will not attend the first Republican presidential debate next week and left open the possibility that he would skip future primary debates, citing his sizable lead in national polls as a primary reason.
In a post on Truth Social, Trump cited a CBS News poll released earlier Sunday that showed him leading the next closest candidate by 46 percentage points.
“The public knows who I am & what a successful Presidency I had, with Energy Independence, Strong Borders & Military, Biggest EVER Tax & Regulation Cuts, No Inflation, Strongest Economy in History, & much more,” Trump wrote. “I WILL THEREFORE NOT BE DOING THE DEBATES!”
Trump’s announcement, which capped months of speculation about whether he would participate, comes days after it was reported that the former president planned to sit for a pre-taped interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson instead of attending Wednesday’s debate in Milwaukee.
The former president has for months indicated that he was likely to skip at least the first two primary debates, questioning in speeches at his rallies and in posts on social media why he would attend given his strong lead in the polls.
Some Trump allies also suggested it could be risky for the former president to attend given his mounting legal troubles. He has been indicted this year in Manhattan and Georgia, and on federal charges in Washington, D.C., and Florida.
Trump also took issue with Fox News as the network airing the first debate, as well as former Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan’s connection to the Reagan Library in California, which is hosting the second debate. The second debate is set to be held on Sept. 27, hosted by Fox Business.
A key indicator that Trump didn’t intend to go to the first debate was his decision last week to not sign the loyalty pledge required by the Republican National Committee for any qualified candidate to promise to support the eventual GOP nominee. He said then that he would announce this week if he would go to the debate, adding that he had made his decision.
“I wouldn’t sign the pledge. Why would I sign a pledge if there are people on there that I wouldn’t have. I wouldn’t have certain people as somebody that I would endorse,” Trump told Newsmax.
He first suggested that he might skip the first two GOP debates in a Truth Social post in April.
“When you’re leading by seemingly insurmountable numbers, and you have hostile Networks with angry, TRUMP & MAGA hating anchors asking the ‘questions,’ why subject yourself to being libeled and abused?” he said at the time.
Trump more recently received a chorus of “no” responses when he asked those attending a rally in Erie, Pa., late last month if he should attend the debate. He again mentioned his large lead in the polls and that most of his competitors for the Republican nomination are currently in the low single digits.
Several of the other candidates in the GOP field previously called on Trump to attend the debate, including his closest opponent, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. He said last month that Trump needs to “step up and do it.”
Trump’s unwillingness to back the eventual nominee carries echoes of a 2015 GOP primary debate, when he was the lone candidate who would not commit to backing the eventual nominee. The former president later signed a pledge vowing to back whoever the party nominated.
Updated Aug. 21 at 8:24 a.m.