U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said on Tuesday that he will not attend the debate that Donald Trump is moderating.
Mr Romney joins fellow candidates Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman in rejecting the invitation to the controversial December 27 debate.
Mr Romney told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto that he will not participate in the Iowa debate, but did not give a reason for his decision.
This news comes the same day as former Speaker Newt Gingrich took a massive 15-point lead against Mr Romney.
Mr Romney has been a long-time front runner while Mr Gingrich is experiencing a rather late surge in the polls, but he now has 37 per cent of the registered voters- the highest ranking any candidate has had throughout the race. The Gallup poll, which is the first of the daily polls the company will do leading up to the election, placed Mr Romney at 22 per cent.
The debate, which is scheduled to happen one week before the Iowa primary, has drawn fire from Washington Republicans as well as two of Romney’s competitors.
Other Republicans have expressed concern that the event could be an embarrassment with the ostentatious Mr Trump in control.
Two candidates disagree, as both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have publicly accepted their invitations.
It comes as no surprise that Mr Gingrich is attending the event, as he spent some time meeting with the real estate mogul-turned Republican power player in New York on Monday.
Many of the candidates, including Mr Romney, have held meetings with Mr Trump during the campaign, but there was a clear difference between Mr Romney and Mr Gingrich’s visits.
Mr Gingrich is in desperate need of some late-in-the-game funds, so their meeting was quite a spectacle with a large press conference outside of Trump Towers in midtown Manhattan.
Mr Romney’s meeting with Mr Trump was very different and shrouded in secrecy, with not a photographer in sight.
Mr Trump flirted with a run for the Republican 2012 presidential nomination earlier this year and was derided for pushing a discredited charge that Democratic President Barack Obama might not have been born in the United States.
Mr Romney said on the Fox broadcast that he had spoken with Mr Trump and informed the multimillionaire businessman and entertainer, who hosts his reality show The Apprentice, that he will not attend.
A campaign spokesman for Texas Representative Ron Paul said that Trump moderating a debate would result in ‘an unwanted circus-like atmosphere’.
‘The selection of a reality television personality to host a presidential debate that voters nationwide will be watching is beneath the office of the presidency and flies in the face of that office’s history and dignity,’ campaign spokesman Jesse Benton said.
In the days following Mr Trump’s announcement of the debate, which will be co-hosted by Newsmax, Republican strategists in Washington worried aloud that the Republican candidates would appear foolish or out-of-touch with voters by participating in the debate.
Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for Republican President George W. Bush, said on Twitter that Mr Trump’s idea to moderate a debate is ‘absurd’.
‘I hope all GOP candidates turn him down,’ Mr Fleisher said.
And veteran Republican strategist Karl Rove has urged the Republican National Committee to call on Mr Trump to cancel the event.
While Mr Gingrich is busy flaunting his friendship with Mr Trump, some less friendly faces began to make the rounds this week as well.
Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi hinted Monday that she has major dirt on Mr Gingrich that could tarnish his White House hopes.
She suggested she would reveal ‘thousands’ of pages of an ethics committee investigation into the GOP frontrunner ‘when the time’s right.’
‘I served on the investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of his stuff,’ Mrs Pelosi told Talking Points Memo Friday in an interview published Monday
Mr Gingrich reacted to Mrs Pelosi’s remarks by thanking her for an ‘early Christmas gift’.
He brushed her off, telling The Hill that revealing such info would be ‘abusing the ethics process’.
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