Trump’s Will-He-Or-Won’t-He Debate Strategy Was a Ploy for Favorable Coverage: Report
Former President Donald Trump tried to dangle his participation in the first Republican debate over Fox News in order to extract more favorable coverage of him, The New York Times reported Saturday. The news comes amid reports that the former president has decided to skip Wednesday’s debate in Milwaukee, and will instead post an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Trump has played a will-he-won’t-he game over the debate for months, leading to a number of requests from Fox News hosts and executives, as well as GOP officials, who have encouraged him to take the stage.
Earlier this month, Trump hosted Fox News president Jay Wallace and chief executive Suzanne Scott at his Bedminster, New Jersey estate. During that dinner, Trump criticized the Fox executives over the network’s coverage of him and claimed Fox owner Rupert Murdoch was responsible for daytime coverage he found particularly unfair. Trump also reportedly told the execs that he couldn’t believe they had fired Carlson, who was the network’s top-rated host.
“Why doesn’t Fox and Friends show all of the Polls where I am beating Biden, by a lot,” Trump posted Thursday morning on Truth social. “Also, they purposely show the absolutely worst pictures of me, especially the big ‘orange’ one with my chin pulled way back. They think they are getting away with something, they’re not.”
Trump met with conservative contributor and columnist Charlie Hurt the following evening and during dinner, Fox News host Brett Baier, called the former president about the debate. The Times reported that Baier, who will moderate Wednesday’s event with Martha MacCallum, had spoken to the former president over the phone at least four times to push him to join the Republican field in Milwaukee on Wednesday.
In late June, Baier hosted Trump’s first sit-down interview with a member of the network since he lost the 2020 election.
Fox was the first network to call the crucial state of Arizona for Joe Biden, infuriating Trump and many of his supporters. Trump called the June interview “fair” but then complained that it was “nasty” and “hostile.”
In his conversations with Baier, Trump left the door open to his participation. “But even as he behaved as if he was listening to entreaties,” The Times reported, “Mr. Trump was proceeding with a plan for his own counterprogramming to the debate.” Trump reportedly reached out to Carlson in July to ask about the possibility of a counterprogram.
The Murdoch-owned network was prepared with two sets of options for the debate. According to The Times, Baier and McCallum are still planning on making Trump, who currently leads the GOP field by a gargantuan margin, a focal point of the two-hour event. They have questions ready about Trump’s latest indictment in Georgia, and are reportedly considering including video of Trump in the questioning.
Fox is reportedly expecting lower ratings than the record-breaking first GOP debate in 2015, which drew 25 million viewers. “President Trump is ratings gold, and everyone recognizes that,” Trump campaign communications director Steven Cheung told The Times.
The debate will be held at 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday.