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Trump says he's not interested in participating in Salt Lake presidential debate

Published: Friday, March 11 2016 11:05 a.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves as he leaves a rally Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, in Bentonville, Ark. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

John Bazemore, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Donald Trump made clear Friday what Gov. Gary Herbert and other Utah Republicans have feared: He has no interest in participating in the GOP's March 21 presidential debate in Salt Lake City.

"We've had enough debates," Trump told reporters at a news conference in Palm Beach, Florida. "I mean, how many times do you have to give the same answer to the same question?"

Trump also said he was not aware of the upcoming GOP presidential debate in Salt Lake City, which was added last month to the schedule by the Republican National Committee, and didn't see a need for it.

"I didn't know there was a next debate," Trump said. "Can I be honest with you? I think it's time to end the debates. No, I didn't know about the debate in Salt Lake City."

Utah GOP Chairman James Evans said Trump's statement "certainly does put a question mark over the debate." Still, he said, he believes the Salt Lake debate will still take place.

Details of the Salt Lake debate haven't been released and now aren't expected to be announced until after Tuesday's primaries determine whether the nomination race is still competitive.

The Deseret News has previously reported that Fox News is the likely media sponsor, and both the Salt Palace and the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah have been considered.

"I think the results from Tuesday will clarify whether the debate will continue," Evans said, noting that while Trump may be trying to position himself as the party's inevitable nominee, voters may not be ready to accept that just yet.

"I understand that he wants to position himself as the eventual candidate, and he wants to turn the page from having to debate for it," he said. "But I'm not sure the people are there. I think this debate will be one those pivotal debates."

Jason Perry, head of the U.'s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said the presidential candidates "are well aware" of the debate schedule but acknowledged "there has been a lot of talk recently about whether that would happen."

Perry said the Republican National Committee is waiting to see which presidential candidates are still in the race after the Tuesday primaries in Ohio, Florida and other key states.

"There has to be candidates, and they have to be willing to show up. That’s what everyone is watching right now," Perry said.

On Thursday, Trump and the remaining Republicans in the race — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — debated in Miami, the party's 12th debate this campaign season.

"It was really a nice way to finish off the debate season," Trump said of the Miami debate. "I don't think there's any reason for the debates. I know they're getting very big ratings."

He said it's the networks that want more debates, not the candidates. Trump said the debates have been a "ratings bonanza" and he would do debates if the networks agreed to give all of their revenues from the broadcasts to veterans.

On Tuesday, Utah's governor suggested there might not be a Salt Lake debate because Trump wouldn't show.

"We hope there's a presidential debate here in Utah, but that may depend on primary election results between now and then," Herbert said.

"I have no reason to believe that there won't be one, but I do note that Donald Trump has said, 'If I've got it wrapped up, I may not come to Salt Lake,'" the governor said. "Now, I would think that would be a mistake on his part."

Last week, the Republican Party's 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, delivered a strongly worded takedown of Trump in a speech at the University of Utah. Romney labeled Trump a fraud and a phony, and urged voters to reject him.

Evans said preparations for the debate are going forward, and "at the end of the day, everybody is talking about Salt Lake City."

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsPolitics

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