Trump snubs TV debate in row over female host
Donald Trump will boycott the last Republican television debate before next week's Iowa caucus after Fox News rejected his demand that it ditch a female presenter he claims is biased against him.
After days of fencing with Fox executives over the status of Megyn Kelly as one of the event's moderators, the Trump campaign released a statement confirming his decision to boycott tomorrow's set-piece.
Trump escalated the row last night, using the word "bimbo" in a derogatory tweet about anchorwoman Ms Kelly .
The billionaire withdrew from the televised encounter, in Des Moines, Iowa, irritated at host Fox News for allowing Ms Kelly to moderate after her questioning had angered him in a debate last year.
The real estate magnate, who is the Republican front-runner to win the nomination for the November 8 presidential election, followed up with a thinly veiled insult.
"I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that would not be politically correct," he wrote on Twitter. "Instead I will only call her a lightweight reporter!"
Trump's withdrawal means the last televised debate before the Iowa caucuses on Monday will not feature the man who has dominated the Republican race for months and leads many opinion polls. The caucuses are the first contest in the nation to choose the Republican presidential nominee. It means the final televised confrontation between Republican presidential hopefuls before the first electoral test on the road to the White House will be minus the party's frontrunner.
"Unlike the very stupid, highly incompetent people running our country into the ground, Mr Trump knows when to walk away," said the statement, before launching an attack on Fox News and its chief executive.
"Roger Ailes and Fox News think they can toy with him, but Mr Trump doesn't play games."
It said he planned to hold an event to raise money for military veterans.
Mr Trump had earlier told a campaign rally that he would "probably" skip the debate because of his enduring anger at Ms Kelly, the presenter who confronted him last August over denigrating statements he had made about women.
The candidate was visibly angry when Ms Kelly prefaced a question about his temperament by saying: "You've called women you don't like 'fat pigs', 'dogs', 'slobs', and 'disgusting animals."
He later took revenge by criticising Ms Kelly on CNN as unfair, telling the channel that "she had blood coming out of her wherever", a remark widely condemned as being an offensive reference to menstruation.
The episode degenerated into a long-running feud that saw Mr Trump polling his own supporters on social media on whether he should take part in a debate moderated by Ms Kelly.
The question was accompanied by a video of him addressing the camera, saying: "Megyn Kelly's really biased against me. She knows that, I know that, everybody knows that. Do you really think she can be fair at a debate?"
The complaint drew a mocking response from Fox. "We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president," the company said in a statement.
"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."