On a chilly August night on the crowded patio of his private club in New Jersey, former President Donald J. Trump held out the phone to his dinner companions.
The Republican front-runner was having dinner with Fox News contributor and columnist Charlie Hurt when he got a call from another member of the Fox team. The person at the other end of the line, Mr. Trump was happy to show his guests, according to two people familiar with the call, including Bret Baier, one of the two moderators of Wednesday’s first Republican debate.
That week Mr. This is Trump’s second Fox party. The night before, he hosted Fox News chairman Jay Wallace and the network’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, who invited Mr. NJ went to Bedminster in hopes of persuading Trump. Mr. Bayer made the call to get a sense of the former president’s latest thinking.
For months, Fox had been working on Mr. Trump, both privately and publicly. He was keeping them guessing, in his patented trite way. But even though he acted like he was asking for requests, Mr. Trump continued his plan for his own counter-programming to the debate.
The former president told aides that he had decided not to participate in the debate, instead releasing an online interview with Tucker Carlson later that night. Mr. An interview with Carlson has already been recorded, according to a person with direct knowledge of the event.
Fox’s promotion of its biggest event of the year will be provocative enough. But as Fox’s top-rated prime-time host, Mr. The interview with Carlson, who is at war with the network, which is still paying the contract — Mr. It’s tantamount to a slap in the face to the Trump network. Rona McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, personally urged her to attend, including her own visit to Bedminster last month.
But in avoiding the discussion, Mr. Trump’s primary motive was not personal animosity toward Ms. McDaniel, but a grim political calculation: He didn’t want to risk his huge lead in the Republican race, which some close to him believe he should win. of the prison.
But that is not the only reason.
‘They’re purposefully showing absolutely awful pictures of me’
Fox’s Mr. Trump’s relationship — a long-running saga that has been lucrative and, more recently, expensive for the network — is another issue that looms large in his thinking about the debate, according to people familiar with the president’s conversations. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the campaign.
His distaste for Fox — and his often-expressed personal dislike of Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of the Fox Corporation — made Mr. His recognition of Murdoch’s power and resentment that the network could further damage his image with Republican voters.
“Why don’t Fox and friends show all the polls that show me overwhelmingly beating Biden,” Mr. Trump Published His website, Truth Social, revealed Thursday morning about the network’s morning show. He added: “Also, they are deliberately showing absolutely awful pictures of me, especially the big ‘orange’ picture with my chin pulled back. They think they’re giving up something, but they’re not.
The Fox team working on the debate has prepared two programs for Wednesday night: one for Mr. If Trump shows up, another if he doesn’t. Mr. Bayer to make his case, Mr. He has spoken to Trump on the phone at least four times. Mr. Trump has explained his reluctance, but has always left the door open to a late change of plans, according to people familiar with the calls.
Fox executives expect viewers for Wednesday’s debate to fall short of the record 24 million that watched the first Republican debate in August 2015, Mr. Even if Trump makes an appearance, his presence will certainly increase interest.
“President Trump values gold and everyone recognizes that,” said Steven Cheung, communications director for the Trump campaign.
Mr. Trump tried to use his influence to get friendly coverage. Two Fox executives, Mr. Wallace and Mrs. At dinner with Scott, Mr. Trump told them about the network’s coverage of him. For decades Mr. Trump knew Mr. He said he doubted them that Murdoch did not dictate daytime political coverage that the former president found distasteful.
Mr. Trump has often complained about what he argues is Fox’s lackluster coverage of Gov. Ron DeSantis. Trump, Mr. Bayer Mr. He dismissed a recent interview with DeSantis as “soft.” Mr. Trump told Fox executives that they were Mr. He said he couldn’t believe Carlson was fired.
In August 2015 Mr. Mr. Trump, who played golf with him, helped moderate the first political debate. Bayer has a complicated relationship with the former president.
Co-hosting Wednesday’s debate with Martha McCallum, Mr. Baier interviewed Mr Trump in June, which Mr Trump initially called a meeting “fair” but later complained that it was “unfriendly”. The change of heart came after Mr Trump pointed out that his answers to matters related to one of the federal cases against him had caused him legal harm.
Fox News spokeswoman, Irena Briganti, said, “The network looks forward to hosting the first debate of the Republican presidential primary season, giving viewers an unparalleled opportunity to learn more about the candidates’ positions on a variety of issues vital to the election process. .”
‘Maybe I should go’
Mr. Trump’s top advisers oppose his participation in the debate, to avoid giving his rivals a chance to boost themselves at his expense and close the widening gap between them in the polls.
But until early last week, Mr. Trump was privately toying with the idea of attending. In a conversation, Mr. Trump had said, “Maybe I should go,” according to a person familiar with the invitation.
The former president has recently been questioning whether he should debate confidants. He has fielded former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is expected to criticize him on stage. And he has expressed a particularly intense distaste for Asa Hutchinson, the low-polling former governor of Arkansas, suggesting in private that it would be almost humiliating to share a stage with him.
Mr. Senior members of Trump’s team — Chris Lacivita, Jason Miller and Mr. Cheung – All plan to attend the debate. After the Trump campaign debated key proxies, including members of Congress, Mr.
But as of Friday, Mr. Trump appeared to have lost interest in participating in the debate, according to people familiar with his thinking. And he is now Mr. Attending an interview with Carlson is attempting to stage the event, although the exact time and online platform remain unclear.
In Trump’s presence, despite his absence
Mr. Bayer and Mrs. McCallum plans to make Mr Trump a prominent figure in the two-hour program – whether or not he shows up.
The Fox team has prepared questions to ask Trump rivals about his most recent criminal indictment handed down by a grand jury in Georgia. According to people familiar with the planning, Mr.
Questions will begin immediately. Candidates will not be allowed to make an opening statement. However, they will be allotted 45-second final statements. Each answer is limited to one minute, and the sound of the hotel front desk’s bell will alert candidates that their time is up. (After the fox sends some of the dogs into a barking fit, the doorbell-like ringing used in the last debates has stopped.)
Fox debated in Iowa in January 2016 with Mr. Unlike Trump’s avoidance, just before the caucuses there, Mr. Fox has had more time to prepare for Trump’s absence.
This year, the Republican National Committee updated its rules to require candidates to sign a pledge 48 hours before the debate to support the party’s nominee regardless of who it is and not participate in future debates. RNC
Mr Trump did not sign the pledge. Mr. RNC officials have told people that no candidate, including Trump, will be allowed on stage without a signature. But Mr Trump is far from a policy grip on the matter. He has already signed Similar pledge A party official in the state said he “generally believes” and pledges to “support the candidates and the platform” of the GOP in 2024 to qualify for the South Carolina primary ballot.
In 2016, Fox didn’t know she wasn’t going to appear until the last minute. As the debate began, the hosts and producers scrambled for the possibility that he would be allowed on stage midway through the broadcast.