Former President Donald Trump speaks at a fundraiser event for the Alabama GOP, Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, in Montgomery, Ala.
Butch Dill | AP
Former President Donald Trump has made up his mind not to attend the first GOP debate next week, according to two sources familiar with his thinking, and is seeking a sit-down interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson as a means of counter-programming the event.
A source close to Carlson says the host is currently en route to Europe, where he has interviews and events lined up all next week. The source said Carlson is “always in discussions” with all the candidates, and nothing is firmly set with Trump and Carlson.
Asked about the former president’s plans for next week, a Trump campaign spokesman told NBC News, “We haven’t confirmed anything on our end.”
Carlson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The New York Times first reported on Trump’s plans to skip the debate for an interview with Carlson.
Trump had been hinting that he might forgo the Wednesday night debate with his 2024 GOP rivals, and was exploring options for counterprogramming, people familiar with his deliberations told NBC News last month.
The former president indicated during a Newsmax interview this month that he wouldn’t sign the required loyalty pledge committing to support the eventual GOP nominee, which is required to secure a spot on the debate stage.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Thursday that she believed Trump will sign the pledge if he decides to debate.
“He’s signed the pledge before. He signed it to get on the South Carolina ballot,” McDaniel said in an interview with NewsNation’s Blake Burman. “I have a feeling if he wants to be on the debate stage, he’s going to sign that pledge.”
A person familiar with the matter said the RNC hasn’t heard from Trump or his team on whether he’ll participate in the debate.
The loyalty pledge also asks candidates to agree not to take part in any non-RNC sanctioned debate for the rest of the election cycle.
Trump is one of at least nine GOP presidential candidates who appears to have met fundraising and polling criteria set by the RNC to qualify for next week’s debate hosted by Fox News in Wisconsin.
Former Vice President Mike Pence’s campaign announced this month that he had qualified for the debate. If Trump had decided to participate, he would have gone head-to-head against his former vice president after being indicted in two separate probes related to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Special counsel Jack Smith’s indictment referred to “contemporaneous notes” written by Pence that described meetings and conversations between the two men after Trump’s election loss.
Trump and 18 co-defendants were also indicted on felony charges in connection with alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia.
In a post to his social media platform, Truth Social, on Thursday Trump touted his poll numbers as a reason not to participate in the GOP debate. “People know my Record, one of the BEST EVER, so why would I Debate? I’M YOUR MAN. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” he wrote.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a GOP presidential candidate who has qualified for the debate, said, “not going? his loss,” after The New York Times reported on Trump’s plan to skip the debate.
At least three of Trump’s closest congressional allies — Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Florida Reps. Matt Gaetz and Byron Donalds — plan to travel to the Milwaukee debate to defend the former president on his behalf, NBC News reported on Wednesday.