Donald Trump's campaign announced Tuesday he would not participate in the last Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses, citing what it calls unfair treatment by host Fox News.
A spokeswoman for Trump confirmed that he would skip Thursday's debate. In a spirited and sometimes combative news conference earlier in the day, Trump had indicated he might not participate.
"Most likely I won't be doing the debate," he said, accusing the cable news channel of "playing games” by poking fun at his complaints after an earlier Fox debate about moderator and anchor Megyn Kelly.
“We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president — a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings," Fox said in an earlier statement that rankled him.
In the first GOP debate in August, Kelly riled Trump by pressing him about derogatory comments he's made about women, and Thursday was to be their first nationally televised showdown since.
"I'm not a fan of Megyn Kelly," Trump said Tuesday. "I think she's a third-rate reporter."
Kelly responded Tuesday by saying she was simply doing her job.
“Mr. Trump has repeatedly brought up that exchange as evidence of alleged bias on my part," she said on her show, "The Kelly File." "I maintain it was a tough but fair question, and we agreed to disagree.”
Trump's campaign later said he would instead host an event to benefit veterans.
Iowa will begin the presidential nominating process with its caucuses on Monday.
"We’re not sure how Iowans are going to feel about him walking away from them at the last minute," a spokesperson for Fox News said in a statement. "But it should be clear to the American public by now that this is rooted in one thing – Megyn Kelly, whom he has viciously attacked since August and has now spent four days demanding be removed from the debate stage."
In previous debates, Trump has been the center of attention as the front-runner in the crowded Republican presidential field. While Trump holds a strong lead nationally, he's locked in a tight race in Iowa with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
On Tuesday, following the announcement that Trump will sit out the debate, Cruz told reporters he would challenge the billionaire businessman to a one-on-one debate.
7:52 p.m.: This post was updated with comments from Megyn Kelly, Fox News, the Trump campaign and background.