First Draft on Politics: Trump’s Shunning of Fox Debate Could Be Seen as Fight or Flight

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 10.30.01MAGGIE HABERMAN

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Good Wednesday morning. Donald J. Trump has had a running feud with Megyn Kelly since the beginning of the debate season, and on Tuesday the feud broke open into a raucous news conference.

The Trump show played for at least one final time on Tuesday before the Iowa caucuses. As has often been the case, the reviews were mixed.

Mr. Trump ended a day of escalating tension with Fox News over Thursday’s Republican debate with the announcement that he would “probably” skip it, followed by his campaign manager’s assertion that “probably” meant “definitely.” What followed over the next few hours was more back-and-forth between the network and Mr. Trump, who said he planned to hold a fund-raiser for wounded veterans during the debate, the final one before the Iowa caucuses.

Mr. Trump was alternately admired and criticized by political observers on Twitter, some of whom accused him of seeming cowardly (he refused to debate because he didn’t like one of the moderators, Ms. Kelly, with whom he has been feuding since the first debate last August). But others argued that the maneuver, which is hardly out of character for Mr. Trump, would not hurt him, at least in Iowa.

It might, however, raise eyebrows in New Hampshire, where voters are looking at a wide variety of candidates and where Mr. Trump has held a large lead. Boycotting Fox News is not the same as boycotting other networks, but Mr. Trump blotted out all coverage of his rivals for another news cycle.

For months, it has been assumed that Mr. Trump was behaving extemporaneously at such moments. In reality, there is often a method to what he does. And he is either concerned about directly facing Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who after Mr. Trump said he would not participate in the debate challenged him to a one-on-one matchup, or Mr. Trump is looking to wind down the clock before the caucuses on Monday.