Donald Trump will skip the first Republican primary debate next week in favour of an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, according to reports.
The former president has hinted for months that he would sidestep the Milwaukee-based event, arguing it didn’t make sense to give other candidates the chance to attack him given his sizeable lead among Republicans in national polls.
According to two sources familiar with the matter, he is instead seeking a sit-down interview with Carlson, NBC reports.
A source close to Carlson said he was currently on his way to Europe, where he has interviews and events lined up all next week.
The source added the talk show host is “always in discussions” with all the candidates, and nothing is firmly set with Trump and Carlson.
Trump has also criticised Fox News, which is hosting the debate, over its recent coverage of him.
Carlson left Fox earlier this year, having previously been one of the news channel’s highest-profile hosts.
He now releases a self-produced show on X, formerly known as Twitter, which has seen him interview two other presidential hopefuls, Republican Vivek Ramaswamy and Democrat Robert F Kennedy Jr, as well as the controversial internet personality Andrew Tate and his brother Tristan.
His absence could mean Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will become the focus of attacks from other candidates jockeying for position.
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In the most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll released this month, Trump had the support of 47% of the Republican vote nationally, with DeSantis dropping six percentage points from July down to just 13%.
None of the other candidates due to attend the debate have broken out of single digits in polling.
Trump’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination ahead of the 2024 election will gather at the debate, but so far only a few have aggressively criticised Trump despite his mounting legal troubles.
He has until 25 August to voluntarily surrender in Georgia, after being charged this week in a fourth criminal indictment, for an alleged scheme to reverse his 2020 election loss.
Most Republicans polled in June said they saw political reasons behind the indictments of Trump up to that point.
Trump also faces two federal indictments over his handling of classified documents after leaving office in January 2021 and over his alleged role in efforts to overturn his election loss.
He also faces charges in New York over alleged hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election.