Trump Skips Iowa Debate, Holds His Own Event
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — As his rivals made their final case to voters ahead of Iowa's kickoff caucuses, Donald Trump was headlining a show of his own.
Just three miles from the site of the final GOP presidential debate before voting begins, Republican front-runner Donald Trump held what amounted to a cross between his typical rally and a fundraising telethon to benefit veterans.
Between his usual talking points on issues like the country's trade imbalance and media camera angles, Trump read out the names of wealthy friends who'd pledged major contributions to veterans' causes. Later he announced the event had just cracked raising $6 million. When he announced he'd pledged $1 million himself, the crowd erupted in cheers.
It was the latest example of how Trump, a billionaire businessman and former reality television star, has completely rewritten the rules of campaigning, turning typical protocol on its head. Trump decided to boycott the debate due to a feud with debate host Fox News and organized a competing event instead.
Trump opened by telling the students and veterans packed into a 775-seat auditorium at Drake University that he would have preferred to be at the debate, but felt he had little choice but to stand up for himself.
Trump was joined at his event by two of his rivals — Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum — who briefly spoke about supporting veterans.
For the other Republican candidates for president, it was a glimpse of what could have been.
Trump's boycott of the debate created space for his rivals to delve more deeply into their differences on immigration, foreign policy and their approach to governing.
And for some candidates, Trump's absence from the debate stage Thursday night appeared to ease some of the tension created by his sharply personal attacks.
Iowa voters kick off the 2016 nominating process Monday, offering the first indications of whether Trump's abrupt decision to skip the debate will have any impact on his standing atop the GOP field.
His lead in Iowa had already been more tenuous, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz pulling support from conservative and evangelical voters.