WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Republican presidential debate scheduled for next week in Utah has been canceled, host Fox News said on Wednesday, after party front-runner Donald Trump told the network he would not participate.
Trump, who has clashed with Fox News throughout his campaign, told the network in an interview on Wednesday he would not appear at the event, scheduled for Monday, because he thought the Republicans had “had enough debates.”
Ohio Governor John Kasich said afterward he would also skip the debate unless Trump changed his mind and decided to come.
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, the third remaining Republican candidate seeking the party’s nomination for the Nov. 8 presidential election, criticized Trump on Twitter, calling him #DuckingDonald and urging his supporters to tell Trump to attend.
“He’s scared to debate,” Cruz said in an interview on Fox News. “He’s afraid of being challenged.”
Fox News, part of the Twenty-First Century Fox Inc <FOXA.O> broadcast media and entertainment company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, earlier this week announced the debate, to be held in Salt Lake City, its latest in the primary season. Utah holds its presidential primary next Tuesday.
“Ted Cruz has expressed a willingness to debate Trump or Kasich – or both. But obviously, there needs to be more than one participant,” Fox News Channel’s executive vice president of news, Michael Clemente, said in a statement. “So the Salt Lake City debate is canceled.”
After the cancellation, Trump posted on Twitter that he would make a “big speech” the night of the debate, “but I wish everyone well.”
The brash New York billionaire skipped a Fox News debate in Iowa in January after complaining he had been mistreated by the network. He has long clashed with anchor Megyn Kelly and revived criticism of her on Tuesday, saying on Twitter she was “crazy” and “unwatchable.”
The Iowa debate went on as scheduled, despite Trump’s decision to host a rally at the same time. But back in January, the Republican field was much larger, with Trump among eight contenders who qualified to participate in the Iowa debate, and four others qualifying for an earlier “undercard” debate.
Wednesday marked the first time either party has canceled a debate.
Trump’s participation in the debates has helped networks draw record audiences. Two previous debates this election cycle hosted by Fox News attracted the two largest U.S. audiences for non-sports cable TV programs in history.
Some 24 million Americans tuned in for the first Republican presidential debate last August, while another in Detroit earlier this month attracted 16.9 million viewers.
In February, CBS <CBS.N> Chief Executive Les Moonves spoke candidly about the advertising money the Republican front-runner was bringing to the network.
“The money’s rolling in and this is fun,” Moonves said at a telecommunications conference in San Francisco, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us,” Moonves said. “Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu and Eric Beech; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney)
Photo: Donald Trump talks to supporters during a campaign rally at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa. REUTERS/Steve Nesius