Trump, with just one day's notice on a weeknight, was able to fill
to capacity a hall at Drake University that holds 700.
"I didn’t want to be here, to be honest, I wanted to be about five
minutes away" at the debate, Trump told the crowd. "When you’re
treated badly, you have to stick up for your rights - whether we
like it or not."
The back-and-forth between Trump and Fox News continued even after
the debate had begun.
Trump said he skipped the debate because he would not be treated
fairly by Fox News anchor and debate moderator Megyn Kelly.
He told the crowd that Fox News made repeated calls to try to
persuade him to change his mind. He said officials, presumably the
network's chairman, Roger Ailes, called him until moments before the
Fox News told the story differently.
The network acknowledged that Ailes had three conversations with
Trump but said in a statement that Trump had offered to participate
in the debate only if Fox News donated $5 million to his charity.
Fox News declined to make the payment, calling it a "quid pro quo"
in its statement.
Trump has made such a demand previously, telling CNN when it hosted
a Republican debate that it should donate $5 million to charity from
the profits gained from advertising. CNN turned down that demand.
Trump was able to garner a tremendous amount of attention on
Thursday without having to share much of the spotlight. Cable news
networks CNN and MSNBC provided extensive coverage of his event.
In deciding to hold a competing event, Trump said the gathering
would be to benefit veterans and he welcomed his rivals to attend.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former U.S. Senator Rick
Santorum of Pennsylvania joined Trump after participating in the
undercard debate held for the Republican candidates at the bottom of
the polls. Both men spoke briefly about the need to help the
Trump told the crowd that in one day he raised more than $5 million
for a veterans group, although his campaign did not say which group
was getting the funds. At the conclusion of the event, Trump
announced that the total raised for veterans had risen to $6
Trump said he personally donated $1 million.
THE COMMITTED AND THE CURIOUS
Trump's decision to skip the debate was sharply criticized by his
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz opened the debate by mocking Trump in his
absence. "I’m a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and
ugly," Cruz said, imitating Trump. "And Ben, you’re a terrible
surgeon. Now that we’ve gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the
There are risks in holding his own event for Trump, who several
recent polls have shown barely leading Cruz.
[to top of second column]
If Trump wins the Iowa caucuses, the move will be lauded as proof
that he has built a movement capable of circumventing establishment
media. If he places second, the skipped debate will be blamed as a
fatal tactical error that allowed opponents to paint him as weak in
the fact of tough questions.
Trump acknowledged that he did not know whether the event would
ultimately hurt or help his campaign.
"Who the hell knows, but it’s for our vets," he said.
Supporters and some curious onlookers waited in the sub-freezing
cold in a line that wrapped around the building and down a block.
Trump's campaign erected a large Jumbotron outside the auditorium to
allow an overflow crowd to watch his remarks.
Before Trump took the stage, some of his well-known supporters
spoke. Lynnette “Diamond” Hardaway and Rochelle “Silk” Richardson,
two women with a large online video blog following, urged the crowd
to back Trump.
Randy Bowling, a Trump supporter from Ottumwa, Iowa, said some of
his friends who are undecided in the Republican contest said Trump's
decision to not participate in the debate raised doubts about
"We have mixed emotions," Bowling said. "We caught a lot of flak
from our friends who are on the fence."
Sharon and Richard Lode drove three hours from Sioux Rapids, Iowa to
see Trump's event, deciding they would make the drive with only
Sharon Lode, who is 65, was not worried that skipping the debate
could hurt Trump on caucus day.
"It took a lot of guts to stand up to them," she said.
Steven Doran, 19, was one of the many students and other curious
area residents who attended the event with no plans to ultimately
support Trump. Doran plans to participate in the Democratic caucus.
"The spectacle," Doran said, when asked why he was there. "I've
never seen Trump in person."
(Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan
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