Putting the will-he-won't-he speculation to rest, Donald Trump skipped the Fox News debate Thursday night for a self-organized night of pro-Trump rallying, doubling as an event honoring veterans.
The presidential nominee took the stage at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, not long after the GOP debate started — after feuding with Fox News and accusing debate co-moderator Megyn Kelly of being biased against him. The event was true to Trump's candidacy, with platitudes about veterans, viral internet meme stars, and invitees coronating Trump with an award. One of the veterans in attendance described the event as "so much America."
"You have to stick up for your rights. When you've been treated badly you have to stick up for your rights," Trump said at his counter-debate event. "That's what our country has to do."
Trump's special benefit to fundraise for veterans organizations featured a guest list that included viral performers the USA Freedom Kids and appearances from two low-polling presidential candidates, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee.
"Rick Santorum, Donald Trump, and I may be competitors in a presidential race, but tonight we are colleagues in unison standing here for the people that let us breathe every breath of free air we breathe — the veterans of the United States of American," Huckabee said, taking the stage behind Trump's podium.
The event raised more than $6 million for veteran charities, $1 million of which Trump donated.
"My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy. I’ve grabbed all the money I could get," Trump said. "I’m so greedy. But now I want to be greedy for the United States. I want to grab all that money. I’m going to be greedy for the United States."
Trump invited three military veterans to speak, and near the end of the event they presented him with a ring honoring him for thanking the nation's military and respecting those lost in war.
Trump told multiple media outlets today — appearing on rival networks CNN and MSNBC — that Fox News executive Roger Ailes called him multiple times asking him to attend the debate. Fox News released a statement implying that Trump had exaggerated the organization's desperation to get the presidential candidate back on the debate when Trump spoke to CNN reporter Dylan Byers.
According to Fox News's statement, Trump said he would only debate if the network donated $5 million to his charities — an offer Fox News turned down.
#Break: Statement from Fox News about Trump-Ailes conversations pic.twitter.com/6iTXQTc5W6— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) January 29, 2016
The event was the opposite of the rigid Republican debate format in almost every way.