GOP candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry both turned down invitations to the Newsmax debate, leaving celebrity moderator Donald Trump to ponder his presence in the debate.
On Thursday, Perry and Bachmann followed in the footsteps of Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman and declined to appear in the Dec. 27 Iowa debate.
Perry’s campaign announced that the Texas governor planned to embark in an Iowa bus tour for the remainder of the month. Bachmann, who had previously questioned the behind the scenes motivations of the debate, also decided Thursday that she would not participate.
Prior to their decisions, Trump speculated that the candidates were skipping out on the debate because they are intimidated by his possible third party status.
"People are afraid that I’m going to run as an independent candidate and some of the people that are supposed to be in the debate have expressed that. And I don’t want to give up that option, because it certainly is an option," he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
Bachmann has publicly questioned whether Trump, who flirted with a possible Republican nominee candidacy early this year, would join in later as a third party candidate.
However, candidates seem to be more concerned about the tone he would bring to the debate and possibly the nominee race.
Trump has never hosted a political debate. But he noted that as the host of NBC reality show, “The Apprentice,” he would draw a strong viewer audience as moderator of the Iowa debate.
Huntsman argued that the real estate mogul would turn the whole thing into a “joke.” Paul released a statement saying that Trump’s participation would “distract from questions and answers concerning important issues” and create “an unwanted circus-like atmosphere.”
Both Paul and Huntsman said that Trump’s appearance in the debate is not appropriate for a presidential race.
Front-runner Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, meanwhile, both agreed to participate in the December debate despite Trump’s celebrity status. Neither candidate has shown any signs of backing out.
Santorum defended the debate Thursday, blasting the hypocrisy of candidates who visited “the Don” behind closed doors, but refused the debate.
“Many of my opponents jockeyed to be the first to fly up to New York and use Donald Trump for a photo op and no doubt try and secure an endorsement. But when Donald wants to moderate a debate – they refuse to attend. That’s what’s so wrong with politics today – hypocrisy.”
Of the list of candidates skipping the debate, Bachmann, Perry and Romney have all taken time out of their campaign schedules to visit Trump. Trump said Huntsman's team wanted to arrange an interview but he declined the offer.
Bachmann agreed on “Fox and Friends” that she has spoken to Trump on numerous occasions and has a good relationship with him. But she said the GOP debates “need to be taken seriously” and expressed a desire to steer clear of questions of bias.