Former president Donald Trump intends to skip the first Republican presidential primary debate in Milwaukee on Wednesday and instead plans to post a prerecorded interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson that will be released that night, according to a person briefed on the matter.
Trump advisers said the interview had already been recorded. It is not yet clear where the interview will appear. Carlson has started a show on X, formerly called Twitter, but Trump sees the platform as a rival to Truth Social, which he helped create.
Trump’s plans, first reported by the New York Times, have not been officially announced. “We cannot confirm or deny — stay tuned.” his campaign spokesman, Steven Cheung, told The Washington Post on Saturday.
A person close to Carlson said that an online airing of a taped interview with Trump is the likely plan.
The move is a blow to Fox News, which will be airing the first debate and has been losing audience to other far-right news outlets. Fox personalities have pushed Trump to attend the debate, arguing that his appearance would be an essential part of the democratic process.
Trump has indicated for weeks in interviews and on social media that he didn’t intend to participate in the first GOP debate. In a post to his Truth Social account on Thursday, Trump questioned why he would show up to a debate if poll numbers showed him “leading the runner up, whoever that may now be” by a considerable amount.
Trump’s team has also been in negotiations with officials in Georgia about scheduling his surrender after the former president and 18 of his allies were criminally charged in connection with efforts to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 win in the state. Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D), who led that investigation, has said those charged have until noon on Friday to turn themselves in, meaning Trump’s surrender could take place on the day of the Milwaukee debate, according to a person close to the former president.
Fox News abruptly fired Carlson in April, less than a week after the network settled a defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems.
During a conservative conference on Friday where several Republican presidential contenders appeared, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis dinged Trump for suggesting that he would be a no-show.
“I think everyone should debate if you qualify. I think you owe it to the people to put out your vision, to talk about your record, answer questions about your record and decisions that you may have made or not made,” DeSantis said. “And if you’re not willing to do that, then I think that people are not going to look kindly on that. So who knows what will end up happening? We’ll be prepared either way.”
The Republican National Committee had not been told of any official decision by the Trump team regarding sitting for an interview with Carlson, a person close to the RNC who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss debate plans said on Friday.
“If he’s doing that, it’s news to us,” the person said.
To make the stage for the first debate, a candidate must poll at least 1 percent in three polls approved by the Republican National Committee, as well as have at least 40,000 individual donors. Candidates are also required to sign a pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee. If enough candidates qualify, there could be a second debate on Aug. 24.
The requirements are intended to ensure that the party’s eventual nominee has built significant grass-roots support and is “in the best position to take back the White House” in 2024, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in June.
As of Saturday afternoon, DeSantis, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former vice president Mike Pence and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie had qualified for the debate stage, according to a person with familiar with the RNC’s process.
Jeremy Barr and Maeve Reston contributed to this report.