Trump leaves Republican Party after debate snub

Donald Trump speaks to members of the media after a meeting with Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich at Trump Towers on 5th Avenue in New York, December 5, 2011. REUTERS/Andrew Burton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Businessman and reality TV personality Donald Trump has left the Republican Party, changing his voter registration to independent in his home state of New York, in a move that could facilitate a potential third-party presidential run in 2012, U.S. media reported on Friday.

The move was disclosed 10 days after the real estate mogul announced he would not moderate a planned debate among 2012 Republican presidential candidates in order to protect a possible White House run as an independent. All but two candidates declined to participate in Trump’s planned December 27 forum in Iowa.

“Mr. Trump has said for almost a year that if he is not satisfied with who the Republican candidate is, he may elect to run as an independent,” Trump spokesman Michael Cohen said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “This change in party affiliation certainly preserves his right to do so, after the finale of ‘The Apprentice’ in May.”

“The Apprentice” is the reality TV competition show that Trump hosts on NBC. The U.S. presidential election is in November 2012.

Trump this year flirted with a run for the Republican 2012 presidential nomination and was derided for pushing a discredited charge that President Barack Obama, a Democrat seeking re-election next year, might not have been born in the United States.

Trump never mounted an actual campaign and critics suggested it was all self-promotion.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Texas Governor Rick Perry and U.S. Representatives Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann had said they would not attend the planned Trump-moderated debate. Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senator Rick Santorum had agreed to take part.

A presidential run by Trump holds the potential of undermining the Republicans’ quest to deny Obama a second four-year term as president.

Reporting By Will Dunham; Editing by Paul Simao