U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump on Wednesday escalated a fight with Fox News, using the word “bimbo” in a tweet about anchor woman Megyn Kelly after he dramatically pulled out of a debate only days before the first votes of the 2016 campaign are cast.
Trump on Tuesday withdrew from the televised encounter, scheduled for Thursday night in Des Moines, Iowa, irritated at host Fox for allowing Kelly to moderate after her questioning had angered him in a debate last year.
The real estate magnate, who is the Republican front-runner to win the nomination for the Nov. 8 presidential election, followed up with a thinly veiled insult on Wednesday.
“I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that would not be politically correct,” he wrote on Twitter. “Instead I will only call her a lightweight reporter!”
Trump’s withdrawal means the last televised debate before the Iowa caucuses on Monday will not feature the man who has dominated the Republican race for months and leads many opinion polls. The caucuses are the first contest in the nation to choose the Republican presidential nominee.
Trump’s main rival in Iowa, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, poured scorn on the billionaire for pulling out of the debate.
In Twitter posts, Cruz likened Trump’s withdrawal to a comical retreat from a “Monty Python” sketch and accused him of “trembling at being questioned” by Kelly.
Cruz used the hashtag #DuckingDonald to mock the former reality TV star for ducking out of the debate and tweeted a mocked-up picture of Trump’s head on Donald Duck’s body sitting on a pile of money.
Cruz, a conservative and a debating champion in college, challenged Trump to a one-on-one debate.
Another Republican candidate, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee told Fox News program, “Fox and Friends” that the affair is “a lot of drama” that most Iowa caucus-goers would likely tune out.
Trump has been feuding with Fox News since the network put on the first debate in August, when Kelly asked Trump about his treatment of women, prompting a stream of insults from the candidate and complaints of not being treated fairly.
Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said on television programs on Wednesday that Trump was not afraid to debate his rivals or take reporters’ questions. He added that Trump would be happy to debate Cruz if the contest, which includes 12 Republicans vying for the nomination, narrows.
“If it comes down to a two-person race, Donald Trump would be happy to debate him,” Lewandowski told ABC’s “Good Morning America” program.
Fox News, in a statement on Tuesday, said it would not “give in to terrorizations toward any of our employees,” but left the door open to Trump attending the debate. The event will be co-hosted by Google.
Mr Trump will hold a separate Iowa event at the same time as the debate to raise money for wounded veterans.
Iowa hosts the nation’s opening presidential primary contest on Monday.
“They can’t toy with me like they toy with everybody else. Let them have their debate and let’s see how they do with the ratings.”
“At the end of the day, Mr. Trump is going to have the last laugh,” Lewandowski told MSNBC.