Trump Causes Fox News to Scuttle Debate, Warns of Possible Convention Riots

Kasich Follows Trump in Bowing Out of Debate

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Donald Trump during a news conference at the Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday.
Donald Trump during a news conference at the Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday. Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Fox News has scuttled the next Republican presidental debate, originally scheduled for Monday in Salt Lake City, after Donald Trump and John Kasich said they would not participate.

Fresh off three more primary victories, Mr. Trump vowed Wednesday to skip off the next Republican presidential debate. He also warned of "riots" if power-brokers deny him the nomination at the convention even if he's leading in the delegate count.

The billionaire New York developer, who held a narrow lead in Missouri and lost Ohio on Tuesday, is faced with the prospect of a floor fight at the party convention in July if he's leading in delegates but falls short of a majority, 1,237.

"I think we'll win before getting to the convention, but I can tell you, if we didn't and if we're 20 votes short or if we're 100 short and we're at 1,100 and somebody else is at 500 or 400 cause we're way ahead of everybody, I don't think you can say that we don't get it automatically," Mr. Trump said on CNN on Wednesday. "I think you'd have riots."

"I wouldn't lead it, but I think bad things would happen," Mr. Trump said, adding the outcome would "disenfranchise" his supporters.

Mr. Trump claimed to have been caught off guard by the debate scheduled for Monday. "We've had enough debates," he said on the network Wednesday. "Nobody told me about it and I won't be there." He said skipping the debate would allow him to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference running from Sunday to Tuesday in Washington.

Mr. Kasich, who won his home state's primary on Tuesday, said he wouldn't take part in the debate if Mr. Trump wasn't there, according to a top aide, John Weaver. Representatives of Texas Senator Ted Cruz didn't immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.

"This morning, Donald Trump announced he would not be participating in the debate," Fox News said in a statement. "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 canceled."

Mr. Trump skipped the debate held days before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1 that were won by Mr. Cruz. Mr. Trump had complained about Fox News' treatment of him at the time, and instead held an event that he said raised money for veterans' charities. Utah holds its Republican caucuses on March 22.

GOP Debates: Viewers and Rating
August 6 24.0 million 6.6 demo (Fox News Channel)
Sept. 16 23.1 million 6.0 demo (CNN)
Oct. 28 14.0 million 3.3 demo (CNN)
Nov. 10 13.5 million 3.1 demo (Fox Business Network)
Dec. 15 18.2 million 4.8 demo (CNN)
Jan. 14 11.1 million 2.5 demo (Fox Business Network)
Jan. 28 12.5 million 2.9 demo (Fox News Channel)
Feb. 6 13.3 million 2.9 demo (ABC)
Feb. 13 13.4 million 2.9 demo (CBS)
Feb. 25 14.5 million 3.9 demo (CNN/Telemundo)
March 3 16.8 million 4.6 demo (Fox News Channel)
March 10 11.8 million 3.1 demo (CNN)
Average 15.5 million 3.9 in the 25-to-54 demo
Democratic Debates: Viewers and Rating
Oct. 13 15.8 million 4.2 demo (CNN)
Nov. 14 8.55 million 1.8 demo (CBS)
Dec. 19 8.03 million 1.7 demo (ABC)
Jan. 17 10.2 million 2.7 demo (NBC)
Feb. 4 4.47 million 1.0 demo (MSNBC)
Feb. 11 4.12 million 0.9 demo (PBS)
March 6 5.51 million 1.5 demo (CNN)
March 9 3.95 million 1.1 demo (CNN)
Average 7.58 million 1.9 in the 25-to-54 demo
Source: Nielsen

Mr. Kasich deprived Mr. Trump of a sweep on Tuesday by winning the Buckeye State. Senator Marco Rubio ended his campaign for the Republican nomination after getting beaten badly by Mr. Trump in Florida.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defeated Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in four of five contests and held a narrow lead in Missouri, a race the Associated Press said was too close to call. Her victory speech made clear she is increasingly focusing on a general-election race against Mr. Trump in the fall.

Mr. Cruz, who says he intends to win 1,237 delegates before the convention, noted in a CNN interview that if he falls short, delegates will have discretion on whom they vote for.

Mr. Cruz strategists have been gaming scenarios in which they pick off delegates to keep Mr. Trump from clinching the nomination in Cleveland. If no candidate gets to the convention with a majority, Mr. Cruz could try to flip delegates pledged to Mr. Rubio, Mr. Kasich, and other candidates on the second ballot. Forty-four states allow a state party convention or executive committee to assign delegates to their preferred candidates.

Mr. Kasich is banking on the possibility of convention rules being rewritten when the delegates arrive, allowing him to compete there. (He's not expected to win the number of states required to appear on a convention ballot under current rules.) But with the majority of delegates already claimed by Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz, they may be unwilling to give Kasich a chance.

"The Cruz folks would never allow the rules to be changed and of course we wouldn't either," said Barry Bennett, a Mr. Trump convention strategist, according to Politico.

The possibility of a chaotic convention even led former House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday to say he'd hypothetically support his successor, Paul Ryan, as nominee, despite voting for Mr. Kasich in the Ohio primary. Mr. Ryan has said he isn't interested.

"If we don't have a nominee who can win on the first ballot, I'm for none of the above," Mr. Boehner said at a conference, according to Politico. "They all had a chance to win. None of them won. So I'm for none of the above. I'm for Paul Ryan to be our nominee."

"He has endorsed Governor John Kasich," Boehner spokesman David Schnittger said in an e-mail. "His off-the-cuff comments this morning were about a hypothetical scenario in which none of the current candidates are able to secure the nomination at the convention."

Republicans haven't had a contested convention since 1976, when President Gerald Ford edged an insurgent Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Trump led with 460 delegates heading into Tuesday's elections, followed by Mr. Cruz with 370, Mr. Rubio with 163, and Mr. Kasich with 63, according to the Associated Press. By Wednesday morning, with the Missouri race still uncalled, Mr. Trump stood at 661, Mr. Cruz at 406, and Mr. Kasich at 142, according to the newswire.

Along with Utah, the next Republican contest is in Arizona on March 22. Arizona's vote is a primary with 58 delegates and Utah's is a caucus with 40. Arizona's delegates, like most from other states, are free to vote for the candidate of their choice if no candidate enters the convention with a majority.

In both states, only registered Republicans will be eligible to vote. Ron Nehring, a spokesman for Mr. Cruz, said those rules favor the Texan.

-- Bloomberg News

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