* Gingrich, Santorum have agreed to Trump's plan
* Republican strategists warn candidates against debate
* Debate video on Newsmax.com
By Sam Youngman
WASHINGTON, Dec 6 U.S. Republican presidential
candidate Mitt Romney said on Tuesday that he will not attend a
controversial Dec. 27 debate to be moderated by real estate
magnate Donald Trump, as have candidates Ron Paul and former
Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.
Romney told Fox News' Neil Cavuto that he will not
participate in the Iowa debate, which has drawn fire from
Washington Republicans as well as two of Romney's competitors.
Some Republicans worry the showboating Trump, star of NBC's
"The Apprentice" program, could make the event all about him
rather than the candidates.
Speaking to reporters in Paradise Valley, Arizona, Romney
said he was already participating in many debates.
"We've already set our calendar in December and I
communicated to Mr. Trump that (the) schedule is completed,"
Trump flirted with a run for the Republican 2012
presidential nomination earlier this year and was derided for
pushing a discredited charge that Democratic President Barack
Obama might not have been born in the United States.
Romney said on the show that he had spoken with Trump and
informed the multimillionaire businessman and entertainer that
he will not attend.
Trump was characteristically prickly about Romney's
"It would seem logical to me that if I was substantially
behind in the polls especially in Iowa, South Carolina,
Florida, I would be participating in the debate, but I can also
understand why Gov. Romney decided not to do it," Trump said.
Iowa leads the state-by-state nominating contests with its
Jan. 3 caucus, followed by January party primaries in New
Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.
The only candidates so far to agree to the debate are
rising Republican Newt Gingrich and former Senator Rick
A campaign spokesman for Texas Representative Paul said
that Trump moderating a debate would result in "an unwanted
"The selection of a reality television personality to host
a presidential debate that voters nationwide will be watching
is beneath the office of the presidency and flies in the face
of that office's history and dignity," campaign spokesman Jesse
In the days following Trump's announcement of the debate,
which will be co-hosted by Newsmax.com, a conservative news
website, Republican strategists in Washington worried aloud
that by participating in the debate, the Republican candidates
would appear foolish or out-of-touch with voters.
Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for Republican
President George W. Bush, said on Twitter that Trump's idea to
moderate a debate is "absurd."
"I hope all GOP candidates turn him down."
And veteran Republican strategist Karl Rove has urged the
Republican National Committee to call on Trump to cancel the