This morning, reality TV host Donald Trump visited Imus in the Morning to plug his new book and discuss the wheels coming off the debate he is scheduled to host with Newsmax later this month.
During the interview, Trump indicated he wasn't sure if the debate would actually happen, lashed out at the candidates who have chosen not to attend the debate, complained about the "very unfair" rule that he can't host The Apprentice and run for president at the same time, managed to squeeze two plugs for the finale of The Apprentice (coming May 16!) into the conversation, and said that he has no plans to abandon a potential independent bid for president.
After Newsmax announced that Trump would be hosting their debate, conservative commentators and Republican Party officials recoiled, with Karl Rove mocking the idea that Trump would ask candidates about President Obama's birthplace (Trump is still a steadfast birther). Charles Krauthammer called the debate a "joke" and a "reality TV show" after Trump indicated he would endorse a candidate after it was over. RNC chairman Reince Priebus went on Fox News and expressed concern over Trump potentially running as an independent after moderating a debate.
The response from candidates hasn't been much better, with only two -- Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum -- agreeing to attend.
But Trump's comments on Fox Business probably give more ammunition to his critics. Trump played directly into the ethical concerns about his moderating a debate by refusing to drop his (almost assuredly toothless) threats to join the presidential race as an independent.
Asked by Imus this morning about the debate, Trump praised Gingrich for the "courage to immediately say yes," but had less kind words for Michele Bachmann, who turned down his invitation. Trump said he was "very disappointed" in Bachmann, who had come to visit his office "four times." According to Trump: "She'd call me, she'd ask me for advice. She said I should be her vice presidential, you know -- if she wins, she'd like to think about me for the vice presidency."
After mentioning that he had participated in a phone call with Bachmann's supporters, Trump complained: "It's actually called loyalty. How do you do that?"
Trump said that candidates and the Republican Party were concerned about having a debate with "somebody that could potentially run as an independent, and they asked me would I drop that, and I said, no, I'm not gonna drop it."
When Imus asked whether the debate would continue with only Santorum and Gingrich attending, Trump responded, "I don't know. I have to look into it," adding: "They really want me to drop my status as a potential person to run as an independent, and, honestly, I don't think I'm going to do that. I'm not going to drop it."
Refusing to name names, Trump expressed disappointment that "some of them don't have the courage to do" the debate and claimed that "a couple of them called me and told me, 'Donald, I'm just too nervous to do it.'"