WASHINGTON • It was a blustery and dramatic move, 48 hours before the final Republican debate till the Iowa caucuses: Candidate Donald Trump stormed out in a rage at Fox News, jeopardising ratings and overtaking political headlines.
But the reasons for his withdrawal from the kind of high-profile forum he has so often dominated may involve more than hurt feelings.
What may be the most intriguing explanation is that a debate, at this point in his contest with Senator Ted Cruz, would almost certainly subject Mr Trump to tough questions about vulnerabilities - like his previous support for abortion or his much more recent suggestion that Iowans, the people whose votes he is courting, are stupid.
People who have spoken with him insist he believes he is headed to victory and wants to play out the clock, a view that was bolstered by a few public opinion polls this week.
He maintains a dominant lead among Republican primary voters across the nation, with Mr Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio effectively tied for a distant second place, according to a Bloomberg Politics poll released on Wednesday. The poll of 1,020 likely Republican primary voters, conducted online by Purple Strategies from Jan 22 to Tuesday, found Mr Trump leading with 34 per cent. Mr Rubio grabbed 14 per cent and Mr Cruz got 12 per cent.
Trump is continuing a long trend of polls that show him in a strong position nationally, but the poll suggests there could be more fluidity in the race after Iowa.
MR DOUG USHER, a managingpartner at Purple Strategies.
The race remains fluid, with 71 per cent of Republican primary voters saying they can still be persuaded to support another candidate. "Trump is continuing a long trend of polls that show him in a strong position nationally but the poll suggests there could be more fluidity in the race after Iowa," said Purple Strategies managing partner Doug Usher.
Attending the debate - one moderated by a network, and anchor who Mr Trump believes is motivated to challenge him aggressively - amounts to an uncontrollable, high-risk confrontation whose outcome could affect his chances.
He would most likely be pelted with many of his past remarks. Mr Cruz and his supporters have been bombarding Mr Trump with attack ads using footage of a 1999 interview in which he called himself "very pro-choice" and "pro-choice in all respects". The ads also show a clip of him last November, asking "how stupid" the people of Iowa must be for believing rival Ben Carson's story of redemption.
Skipping the debate, however, could also be seen as strategic genius. "Donald Trump knows that by not showing up, he's owning the entire event," radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh said on his show. "Some guy not even present will end up owning the entire event."
NEW YORK TIMES, BLOOMBERG