Republican debate cancelled after Trump pulls out

Republican party front-runner Donald Trump told Fox News he would not participate.
Republican party front-runner Donald Trump told Fox News he would not participate.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US Republican presidential debate scheduled for next week in Utah has been cancelled, host Fox News said on Wednesday, after party front-runner Donald Trump told the network he would not participate.

Trump, who has clashed with Fox News throughout his campaign, told Fox in an interview on Wednesday he would not appear at the event, scheduled for Monday, because he thought the Republicans had "had enough debates."

Rival John Kasich said following Trump's decision that he would also skip the debate unless the front-runner changed his mind and decided to come.

Ted Cruz, the third remaining Republican candidate vying for the party's nomination for the November presidential election, criticised Trump on Twitter, calling him #DuckingDonald and urging his own supporters to tell Trump to attend.

Fox News, part of the Twenty-First Century Fox broadcast media and entertainment company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, had announced the debate, to be held in Salt Lake City, earlier this week, its latest in the primary season.

After the cancellation, Trump posted on Twitter that he would be making a "big speech" the night of the debate, "but I wish everyone well."

The boisterous billionaire had skipped a Fox News debate in Iowa in January amid complaints that he had been mistreated by the network. He has long clashed with anchor Megyn Kelly and revived criticism of her on Tuesday, calling her on Twitter "crazy" and "unwatchable."

The Iowa debate went on as scheduled, despite Trump's decision to host a rally at the same time. But back in January, the Republican field was much larger, with Trump among eight contenders who qualified to participate in the Iowa debate, and another four qualifying for an earlier "undercard" debate.

Wednesday marks the first time either party has canceled a debate.

Trump's participation in the debates has helped networks draw record audiences to them. Two previous debates this election cycle hosted by Fox News attracted the two largest audiences for non-sports cable TV programmes in history.

Some 24 million Americans tuned in to the first Republican presidential debate last August, while another in Detroit earlier this month attracted 16.9 million viewers.

In February, CBS chief executive Les Moonves spoke candidly about the advertising money the Republican front-runner was bringing into the network.

"The money's rolling in and this is fun," Moonves said at a telecommunications conference in San Francisco, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

"I've never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us," Moonves said.

"Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But bring it on, Donald. Keep going."