Trump to skip Republican debate, interview with ex-Fox host Carlson -NYT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Former U.S. President Donald Trump plans to skip the first Republican primary debate next week and instead sit for an online interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, the New York Times reported, citing people briefed on the matter.

Trump has for months suggested that he would likely pass on Wednesday night’s debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, arguing that it did not make sense to give others a change to attack him given his sizeable lead among Republicans in national polls.

Trump has also criticized Fox, which is hosting the debate, over its recent coverage of him.

Trump’s absence could mean Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a distant second in the polls, will become the focus of attacks from other candidates looking to position themselves as the primary alternative to the former president.

Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said nothing had been confirmed on the candidate’s debate plans, without elaborating.

Representatives for Fox, which parted ways earlier this year with Carlson, and the Republican National Committee could not immediately be reached for comment. Carlson, who now is starting his own media company, also could not be reached.

In the most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll released this month, Trump held 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.

Trump’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination ahead of the 2024 election will gather at the debate to tout their candidacies, but so far only a few have aggressively criticized Trump despite his mounting legal troubles.

Trump has an Aug. 25 deadline to voluntarily surrender in Fulton County, Georgia, after being charged this week in a fourth criminal indictment, for an alleged scheme intended to reverse his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

Most self-identified Republicans polled in June said they saw politics 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 a pornographic film star ahead of the 2016 election.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Ismail Shakil and Alistair Bell)