Trump will hold a fundraiser instead of appearing at next week’s Republican presidential debate

NEW YORK (AP) — As his Republican primary rivals return to the debate stage next week, former President Donald Trump will be headlining a closed-door fundraiser in Florida.

Trump’s campaign has been advertising a chance to win tickets to the “end-of-year reception” in Hallandale Beach, Florida, near Miami on Dec. 6.

The former president has chosen to skip his party’s three previous primary debates, citing his commanding lead in early state and national polls. But his decision not to schedule a public counterprogramming event to upstage the debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, marks a change in strategy.

Trump held a rally in Hialeah, a Miami suburb, during the last debate, which felt, in many ways, like the main event. He traveled to Michigan in lieu of the second debate to rail against President Joe Biden at an auto-parts manufacturing plant during an autoworkers’ strike. And he sat for a pretaped interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson that was released on X, the platform previously known as Twitter, to coincide with the first GOP gathering.

A senior Trump aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to address the decision, cited waning interest in the debates given Trump’s dominant front-runner status.

Next Wednesday’s debate comes as former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has seen a surge in support that has threatened Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ status as the distant runner-up to Trump.

The two are expected to continue to clash on a stage that will feature just a handful of candidates, as the Republican National Committee ups the threshold for participation. To make the stage, candidates must garner at least 6% in two approved national polls, or 6% in polls from two separate early-voting states. They will also need to have raised money from at least 80,000 unique donors.

Several high-profile candidates, including Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and former Vice President Mike Pence, have already dropped out of the race.

Trump and his campaign have called on the RNC to cancel the remainder of the debates and instead focus on backing him against Biden.

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