The current thinking among Donald Trump’s campaign advisers and those close to the former president is that he does not plan to participate in next week’s Republican presidential primary debate, three sources familiar with his plans said. told CNN, and suggested counterprogramming the event.
Sources said Trump did not make any preparations for the debate, which was hosted in Milwaukee by Fox News. However, an adviser argued that he did not need to prepare for the debate, and said that there was always a chance that he would finally decide to participate at the 11th hour.
Trump, meanwhile, floated a variety of ideas for his own counterprogramming during the debate, sources said, including sitting down with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson and calling in to various news shows. on the cable.
Conversations about a potential interview with Carlson have taken place with Trump’s team, but there are no definite plans for him to do so at this time, they said.
Trump has privately and publicly floated skipping one or both of the first two Republican presidential primary debates and has repeatedly pointed to his commanding lead in the polls as a reason he is reluctant to share the stage with his GOP challengers.
Wednesday’s primary debate, the first of the 2024 campaign cycle, comes more than a week after the former president was impeached for a fourth time. On Monday night, a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, accused Trump of being the head of a “criminal enterprise” to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia. The indictment includes 18 co-defendants in addition to Trump, 41 charges in total and 30 unindicted co-conspirators.
Trump’s lawyers are in “ongoing negotiations” with the Fulton County District attorney’s office about the details of his surrender, CNN previously reported.
So far, Trump’s lawyers have not reached a date for when Trump will surrender, the sources said. He is expected to surrender at some point next week, setting a potential collision course in the GOP debate.
The former president personally felt he was in a strong position to skip the debate after Fox News executives, including network president Jay Wallace and chief executive Suzanne Scott, traveled to his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf course. club last month to persuade him to join. , sources close to Trump told CNN, including a person who spoke about the meeting with the former president on Monday.
Trump, who before the dinner was impeached for a third time for his efforts to stay in the White House after losing in 2020, did not commit to participating in the debate, CNN previously reported.
But Trump’s personal reading from the meeting, where Wallace and Scott repeatedly encouraged him to attend the debate, had the network worried about ratings without him there.
Trump’s advisers are also coordinating his surrogates to represent him in the spin room in Milwaukee next week, and have spoken with former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, Reps. Byron Donalds and Florida’s Matt Gaetz and other Republicans. of Congress to attend. the debate is next week. Members of Trump’s campaign team also plan to attend, three sources with direct knowledge of their plans told CNN. It is unclear, however, whether Fox News will allow Trump surrogates and members of his campaign to attend if the former president himself does not appear.
Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last year, Trump dismissed Fox News and Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of Fox Corporation and the company’s controlling shareholder, for not supporting him enough.
Five Republican presidential candidates are eligible to participate in next week’s debate, meaning they’ve met a rare donor threshold, completed enough surveys on qualifications and signed a pledge to support the incoming nominee. in the party.
They include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina governor and US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.
Former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie both met the polling and donor thresholds to attend the debate, but they have yet to sign the RNC pledge to support the party’s eventual nominee – a requirement to participate. in the debate. Pence told Fox News on Wednesday that he plans to sign the pledge at the debate.