Speaking just miles away from the Republican debate that he chose to boycott, Donald Trump said Thursday he skipped the FOX-sponsored clash "out of respect for myself."
Trump told an audience in Des Moines that unnamed employees of FOX News apologized to him for their treatment of the GOP frontrunner and urged him to attend the debate at the eleventh hour. And he alluded to theories that he might lose the support of some Iowan caucus-goers due to the boycott but added that he was committed to supporting veterans who are being "mistreated."
"Will I get more votes? Will I get less votes? Nobody knows. Who the hell knows, but it's for our vets," he said.
"Once this ball started rolling, we couldn't stop it," he said of the event, which Trump claims has raised more than $5 million for veterans' causes, although it is not clear to which organizations he plans to donate.
Trump reiterated that he is skipping the FOX News debate because of what he says is unfair treatment by the network, particularly by debate moderator Megyn Kelly.
"I'm not gonna do the debate out of respect for myself. Because it would just be wrong. But I love Iowa, so we gotta do something," he said of planning the veterans' event.
And he appeared to compare his own decision to the types of calls he would make as commander in chief.
"We have to stick up for ourselves as people, and we have to stick up for our country when we're being mistreated."
Two Republicans who did not qualify for the primetime debate — Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee — appeared with Trump at the event and spoke briefly about their support for U.S. veterans.