Former President Donald Trump skipped theWednesday night, opting instead for an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson as a form of counterprogramming.
The pre-taped interview was made available on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, five minutes before Wednesday night's debate began. Trump, who made little news Carlson in the roughly 45-minute interview, explained why he didn't show up to the debate.
"You see the polls have come out, I'm leading by 50 and 60 points," Trump said. "And some of them are at one and zero and two. And I'm saying, 'Do I sit there for an hour or two hours, whatever it's going to be and get harassed by people that shouldn't even be running for president? Should I be doing that? And a network that isn't particularly friendly, frankly.'"
During the debate, the eight candidates on stage were asked if they would support Trump as the GOP nominee if he is convicted in any of the four separate cases against him. Six of the candidates, including former Vice President Mike Pence, raised their hands. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were the only two who did not.
Trump's interview time and format is a slight to Fox News, which is hosting the debate, in addition to the rest of the GOP field. Trump, who once praised Fox News for its coverage, has soured on the conservative news network, according to his social media posts. Fox News canceledshow in April, days after the company over its 2020 election reporting.
According to court documents from Dominion Voting Systems' defamation lawsuit against Fox News, Carlson wrote to members of his staff in early January 2021, "We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can't wait," and "I hate him passionately."
But it was Trump who approached Carlson about the possibility of airing an interview the same night as the debate, the former Fox News host said.
"Whatever you think of Trump, he is, as of tonight, the indisputable, far-and-away frontrunner in the Republican race. We think voters have an interest in hearing what he thinks," Tucker said in a video posted to social media Wednesday afternoon.
During the interview, the former president opined on the 2024 field, saying that if President Biden isn't Democrats' ultimate candidate, "it would be a free-for-all," and the nominee wouldn't necessarily be Vice President Kamala Harris.
Trump said he thinks Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom he calls "DeSanctus," "is out."
"I think he's donezo," Trump said in the video that aired as DeSantis was debating the other Republican candidates.
Yet again, Trump criticized his vice president, Mike Pence, for refusing to overturn the election results on Jan. 6, 2021, continuing to insist that Pence had the power to send election results back to the states. Pence has repeatedly said he lacked any such authority, as have constitutional scholars.
Carlson asked Trump if he thinks the nation is heading to civil war. In response, Trump pointed to the "passion" and "hatred" of his supporters on Jan. 6, 2021.
"There was love in that crowd, there was love and unity," Trump said of his supporters that day. "I have never seen such spirit and such passion and such love, and I've also never seen simultaneously and from the same people such hatred of what they've done to our country."
Asked if there will be open conflict, Trump said he didn't know.
"There's a level of passion that I've never seen, there's a level of hatred that I've never seen, and that's probably a bad combination," the former president said.
Trump's appearance with Carlson aired a day before the former president isat a Fulton County, Georgia, jail after he was on charges related to alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the state.
For weeks, Trump had said he would not attend the debate and dangled the possibility of an alternate appearance before confirming his plans over the weekend.
The former president has justified skipping the debate by pointing to his sizable lead in the polls. He has also acknowledged that the other Republicans on stage are "not dumb people," offering a glimpse into the mind of the 77-year-old former reality television star. "What's the upside?" Trump mused in an Aug. 9 Newsmax interview.
Trump has also said he wouldn't sign the Republican National Committee's pledge to support the GOP nominee, one of several requirements for qualifying for the debate stage. Trump said "three or four" of the Republicans running are people he wouldn't support, although he declined to say who those candidates are.
Recent polling suggests that, despite mounting legal trouble, Trump's lead is only growing. Ataken this month showed 62% of likely Republican primary voters would choose Trump if they voted today. Voters' second choice, DeSantis, doesn't come close, with 16%. Everyone else in the field is in the single digits.