NEW YORK (Reuters) - Reality TV star and real estate mogul Donald Trump on Friday said he was unsure if he would still host a Republican presidential debate, which now has only two participants.
Trump also issued a statement saying he still might run for the White House as an independent if he does not approve of the eventual Republican nominee.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has surged to the front of the Republican field in recent weeks, and former Senator Rick Santorum are now the only candidates planning to participate in Trump’s December 27 forum in Iowa.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Texas Governor Rick Perry and U.S. Representatives Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann have said they will not attend the debate, throwing the event into question.
Several of the Republican candidates have met with Trump in hopes of winning his support but many party members worry the showboating Trump, star of NBC’s “The Apprentice” program where he is known for his catch phrase “You’re fired,” could make the debate all about him.
Trump, who is promoting his latest book, said some Republican candidates want assurances from him that he will not mount an independent run once his reality TV shows completes its season at the end of May. But, he said, “I must leave all of my options open.”
Earlier on Fox Business Network’s “Imus in the Morning”- show, Trump was asked if the event will go ahead and replied, “I don’t know. I have to look into it.”
Earlier this year Trump flirted with a run for the Republican 2012 presidential nomination and was derided for pushing a discredited charge that Democratic U.S. President Barack Obama might not have been born in the United States.
Although the resulting publicity yielded significant support for Trump in some polls, he never mounted an actual campaign and critics suggested it was all self promotion.
Trump eventually decided not to pursue the Republican nomination but recently has said he still might run as an independent.
“It is very important to me that the right Republican candidate be chosen to defeat the failed and very destructive Obama administration,” he said in statement Friday. “But if that Republican, in my opinion, is not the right candidate, I am unwilling to give up my right to run as an independent candidate.”
The debate will be sponsored by the Newsmax website and broadcast on the Ion cable television network. It comes at a time when Americans are busy with holidays but less than a week before the key January 3 caucus in Iowa and the first primary in New Hampshire on January 10.
A campaign spokesman for Paul said that Trump moderating a debate would result in “an unwanted circus-like atmosphere.”
Republican strategists in Washington worried that by participating in the debate, 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 moderating a debate was absurd. Veteran Republican strategist Karl Rove urged the Republican National Committee to call on Trump to cancel the event.
(Reporting by Mark Egan; Editing by Michelle Nichols and Bill Trott)
This story corrects the name of Fox program in seventh paragraph