Trump overshadows Republican debate even as he opts to sit out
Des Moines (Iowa), January 29
Even in boycotting a debate with his Republican rivals, front-runner Donald Trump managed to upstage the event on Thursday with a typical dramatic flourish.
Instead of attending a seventh debate, the former reality TV star held a competing event across town that he said raised $6 million for US military veterans. In doing so, he cast a shadow over his rivals, who frequently tossed barbs his way.
Trumpís gamble that he could leave the battlefield to his rivals for one night appeared to pay off, with just days to go before Iowa holds the first nominating contest of the 2016 election season. No one appeared to emerge as a central challenger to him during the two-hour face-off in Des Moines.
Trumpís refusal to participate in the debate out of anger that Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly was a moderator prompted a flurry of last-minute phone calls with Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes that failed to resolve their dispute.
A Fox News statement said Trump requested that Fox contribute $5 million to his charities in exchange for his attendance, which the network turned down.
The debate was the type of event Republicans would routinely have without the flamboyant Trump on stage, and it lacked the electricity that he brings to the partyís search for a nominee for the November 8 election.
Without Trump on stage, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie found themselves with more room to make their case to voters seeking a more mainstream candidate.
Both men have an eye on the February 9 first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire, which comes on the heels of the Iowa caucuses on Monday and where an establishment Republican like them might have a better chance of standing out.
Senator Ted Cruz from Texas and Senator Marco Rubio from Florida, the two top challengers to Trump in Iowa, engaged in squabbles over immigration and national security and did not appear to threaten Trumpís lead. He holds the edge over Cruz in polls of Iowa Republicans.
Trumpís rivals mocked his decision to sit out the debate and found ways to criticise him. Jeb Bush, who has been a frequent target of Trumpís attacks, turned a question about religious tolerance into an attack on Trumpís proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the US. ó Reuters