“I will say this," Donald Trump told reporters on March 11, then added
I think we’ve had enough debates. We’ve had 11 or 12 debates. I did really well on the last one. I think I’ve done well in all the debates. I mean, according to Drudge and everybody else, I have won the debates. But I think we’ve had enough how many times can the same people ask you the same question? So I was very surprised when I heard that Fox called for a debate. Nobody told me about it. And I won’t be there, no.
The answer to the question, if Trump is allowed to have his way, is: zero (0). And if he's looking for a wing man, he need look no further than Columbus, where Governor John Kasich holds forth.
Fox Wednesday morning issued a statement reading
This morning, Donald Trump announced he would not be participating in the debate. Shortly afterward, John Kasich’s campaign announced that without Trump at the debate, Kasich would not participate. Ted Cruz has expressed a willingness to debate Trump or Kasich — or both. But obviously, there needs to be more than one participant. So the Salt Lake City debate is cancelled.
Trump stated that he would be speaking in Washington, D.C. at the annual conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Council, which runs from Sunday through Tuesday, on March 21. There is no report at this time as to whether the front-runner might have been able to re-schedule his speech for Sunday evening, which presumably would have allowed him to attend the debate in Utah on Monday.
According to CNN Money, the event "had been penciled into the calendar in February," whatever that means. In this under-reported story, there is no indication whether Trump had been informed earlier that there would be a debate on March 21. Perhaps he had been made so aware, given it would be an obvious case of malfeasance if no one at the network had earlier gained the candidate's agreement to appear on that date. Clearly, Trump is "scared of debate," as Cruz told Megyn Kelly Wednesday night.
Fox News may have maneuvered the situation so as to give Trump an out. Ted Cruz has been overtly lusting for an opportunity to go one-on-one with the frontrunner (Cruz after Trump pulled out of an earlier debate, video below). It is counter-intuitive for a candidate in the position of Kasich, who cannot be nominated on the first ballot in Cleveland even if he were to win every single remaining delegate, to turn down an opportunity for going toe-to-toe with the other candidates. Yet, eager to run on a ticket with Trump, the Ohio governor declined to participate.
Fox reportedly offered a town hall meeting to Cruz- after the candidate, learning the debate had been canceled, made other plans. Alternatively, Fox could have held the semblance of a debate, with the three moderators posing questions to the Texas senator in that same format. That would have allowed for a cross-examination of the candidate with considerable follow-up, which might have made for riveting television. However, Rupert Murdoch of NewsCorp, owner of Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, has been warming to Donald Trump for a couple of months, and never has been a fan of Ted Cruz.
That might have proved embarrassing to Cruz (as it might to any candidate), but it would have been seen as a prime opportunity for a guy who has argued in front of the US Supreme Court. Further, Fox could have set up two lecterns, those by which the other two candidates would have stood had they been willing to wrangle with the Texas senator. Even without those, it would have been great television, as well as an indication that the network was not to be trifled with. Instead, Fox News has decided to do the bidding of Donald Trump, much as it (and its main star) did by refusing to back Megyn Kelly when Trump demeaned her at an earlier date.
The network may be transitioning into general election mode, in which it will do everything to get the GOP nominee elected. While viewers in Utah may be disappointed, neither Donald Trump nor the governor of Ohio, who hopes to be the other guy nominated in Cleveland, is complaining.