Washington: White House hopeful Donald Trump will not participate in Thursday`s Republican debate, bowing out of a nationally televised showdown just four days before Iowa kicks off the presidential nomination process, US media reported.
Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, publicly toyed with the idea of pulling out of the debate during a campaign event Tuesday in Iowa, where he said "probably I won`t be doing the debate."
An hour later, Trump`s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told The Washington Post that Trump would "definitely not" participate.
Trump`s decision to drop out only heightens his feud with Fox News, the host of Thursday`s debate in Iowa and whose moderator Megyn Kelly has been accused by Trump of bias against him.
"I don`t think she can treat me fairly. And I`m not a big fan of hers," Trump told CNN earlier Tuesday.
Kelly moderated the first debate of the campaign cycle, in August, when she was tough on Trump.
Afterwards Trump suggested Kelly treated him unfairly because she was menstruating.
Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, in what looked increasingly like a game of high-powered chicken, gave his moderator his support.
"Megyn Kelly is an excellent journalist and the entire network stands behind her," Ailes told the Post.
"She will absolutely be on the debate stage on Thursday night."
Fox intensified the standoff by mocking Trump, who had asked his five million Twitter followers to weigh in on whether or not he should attend the debate.
"A nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings" with the leaders of Iran and Russia, Fox News said in a tongue-in-cheek statement.
Trump`s absence would leave a huge hole on the Des Moines stage, where fellow Republicans including Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Florida governor Jeb Bush will be making their final pitch to Iowa voters.
Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler blasted Trump`s decision as "erratic" and foolish behavior from a presidential hopeful, especially considering a large segment of voters say they have not finalized their support for a candidate.
Bailing out on a debate "because he has a problem with the host is just childish," Tyler told CNN.