Donald Trump said Tuesday that he "most likely" will not participate in Thursday night's FOX News-Google debate, citing the participation of "lightweight" Megyn Kelly as well as FOX's "wise-guy" press release poking fun at Trump's rhetoric.
"Let's see how much money FOX is going to make on the debate without me," he told reporters in Marshalltown, Iowa.
After the press conference, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandoski told reporters that the real estate mogul "will not be participating in the Fox debate" and that it is "not under negotiation."
"Obviously we would love all of the candidates to participate, but each campaign ultimately makes their own decision what's in their best interest," Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer said.
FOX said in a statement that it would still welcome Trump if he decides to attend the debate, "but he can’t dictate the moderators or the questions."
Trump told media that he hopes to plan an alternate event raising money for members of the military in lieu of participating in the Thursday night clash.
Trump also blasted FOX News for issuing a sarcastic press release in response to his threats to skip the debate.
The statement from a FOX News spokesperson read: "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."
Trump said that response was "written by a child."
In recent days, Trump has hinted that he might skip out on the debate due to what he calls the "bias" of moderator Megyn Kelly, with whom he has feuded throughout the campaign.
He mused about boycotting the debate in an Instagram video posted on Tuesday.
But FOX News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes said in a statement that Kelly is locked in as a moderator for the Thursday night clash.
"Megyn Kelly is an excellent journalist and the entire network stands behind her — she will absolutely be on the debate stage on Thursday night," he said.
In a separate statement later Tuesday night, a FOX spokesman said:
"We’re not sure how Iowans are going to feel about him walking away from them at the last minute, 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. Capitulating to politicians’ ultimatums about a debate moderator violates all journalistic standards, as do threats, including the one leveled by Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski toward Megyn Kelly."
"Trump is still welcome at Thursday night’s debate and will be treated fairly, just as he has been during his 132 appearances on FOX News & FOX Business, but he can’t dictate the moderators or the questions," the FOX statement said.
Earlier Tuesday, the network announced its lineup for Thursday night’s undercard and primetime GOP debates, featuring victories for Rand Paul - who made the cut for the 9pm ET event — and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who will debut on the undercard stage.
Qualifying for the 9 p.m. ET primetime debate, hosted by FOX News and Google, are Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Paul.
And qualifying for the 7pm ET undercard event are Gilmore, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Carly Fiorina.
Paul, who boycotted the last GOP debate after being relegated to the undercard contest, performed well enough in public polling to meet the network's threshold for participation in Thursday's main event.
Gilmore has done minimal traditional campaigning, has barely registered in public polls and has never participated in a GOP debate to date.