Trump to appear with Carlson rather than face opponents at first Republican debate

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Washington: Donald Trump is set to skip the first Republican presidential primary debate and steal the spotlight from his rivals by instead appearing in a one-on-one interview with axed Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Five days before the event is due to take place, the former US president was not planning to show up, in what could be construed as an act of open hostility towards Rupert Murdoch’s flagship Fox cable network, which is hosting the event.

Fox and friends: Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch and Tucker Carlson.Credit: AP

The debate will take place on Wednesday night (US time) in Milwaukee – two days before Trump and 18 co-defendants must surrender to an Atlanta jail over racketeering and conspiracy charges relating to their alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

With an election next year, it will be the first opportunity for Republicans who want to run for president to make their pitch on the national stage to a prime time televised audience.

But to qualify, candidates have until Monday night to meet the Republican National Committee’s rules, which include getting at least 1 per cent in two national polls and at least 40,000 unique donors, as well as signing a pledge to support the person who eventually wins the nomination at next year’s primaries.

From left: former President Donald Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.Credit: AP

Trump has been considering for weeks whether he should attend the debate, given polls show he is so far ahead of his rivals, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former vice president Mike Pence, US Senator Tim Scott and former UN ambassador Nikki Haley.

“People know my Record, one of the BEST EVER, so why would I Debate?” he wrote on his Truth Social platform.

But various US media outlets reported on Friday that he would, in fact, skip the first debate and was strongly considering sitting down for an online interview with Carlson instead.

Such a move could prove contentious given Carlson was sacked from Fox News earlier this year amid concerns about his extreme views and a culture of misogyny on his now axed top-rating program, Tucker Carlson Tonight.

The relationship between Trump and Murdoch has also cooled over the years, hitting a new low during Fox News’ court case against Dominion Voting Systems, when Murdoch revealed that network presenters had “endorsed” Trump’s lies of a stolen election, and that company executives could have intervened to prevent those lies from being aired.

Trump was furious about the admission, accusing the Australian-born media mogul of “throwing his [TV] anchors under the table”.

More recently, the Trump campaign has expressed annoyance at reports that Murdoch has been urging Virginia’s popular governor, Glenn Youngkin, to throw his hat in the ring.

But while Trump seems determined to snub the first Republican debate of the season, he is also notorious for changing plans at the last minute and loves the limelight, so insiders caution that a surprise appearance may not be out of the question.

On the Democrat side, President Joe Biden has successfully fended off calls by his two long-shot primary challengers – Robert F Kennedy jnr and Marianne Williamson – to take part in a debate next year ahead of the November election.

Robert F. Kennedy jnr announces his run for president in Boston on April 19.Credit: AP

Many fear that the ageing 80-year-old incumbent could easily be shown up on the stage against his younger rivals, who do not have the backing of the Democratic establishment.

It could also force Biden into answering ongoing questions about the business dealings of his son, Hunter, and whether he was in any way linked to them.

Kennedy, who is the son of Robert F Kennedy, the nephew of former president John F Kennedy, and well known for his anti-vaccine sentiments, has called the lack of debate “unfortunate”, while Williamson went even further, using a Newsweek opinion piece in May to accuse Biden and the Democratic National Committee of “candidate suppression”.

“Candidate suppression is a form of voter suppression, and the party that purports to be the champion of democracy should not be so wary of it in our own house,” said the self-help author, who also unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for the last election.

The Republican debate will be moderated by Fox hosts Brett Baier and Martha MacCallum on Wednesday night at 9pm. But Trump has such a commanding lead – even in the face of four criminal indictments – that many of his Republican rivals resist attacking him for fear of upsetting his base.

One awkward memo by a DeSantis fundraising committee posted online this week even had strategies for the Florida governor, advising him to defend Trump if former New Jersey governor Chris Christie attacks him; to “pivot” to attacking Biden and the media at least three times; and to show emotion when telling an anecdote about his family (to counter the perception he is too wooden).

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