Former President Donald J. Trump plans to upstage the first Republican primary debate on Wednesday by sitting for an online interview with the former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, according to multiple people briefed on the matter.
In the past 24 hours, Mr. Trump has told people close to him that he has made up his mind and will skip the debate in Milwaukee, according to two of the people briefed on the matter.
Mr. Trump is notoriously mercurial, and left himself something of an out to change his mind with an ambiguous post on his website, Truth Social, on Thursday. He wrote that he’s polling well ahead of his rivals and added, “Reagan didn’t do it, and neither did others. People know my Record, one of the BEST EVER, so why would I Debate?”
For weeks, the former president has been quizzing aides, associates and rally crowds about what he should do. Until earlier this week, Mr. Trump had been giving people the impression he was considering a last-minute surprise appearance on Wednesday.
Still, people close to him had said for months that he was unlikely to take part in the first two Republican debates, both of which are sponsored by the Republican National Committee. And Mr. Trump’s apparent decision to skip the first debate of the presidential nominating contest is a major affront to both the R.N.C. and Fox News, which is hosting the event.
The timing of the interview with Mr. Carlson remains unclear, but if it goes ahead as currently planned, the debate-night counterprogramming would serve as an act of open hostility.
The chairwoman of the R.N.C., Ronna McDaniel, has privately urged Mr. Trump to attend the debate, even traveling to his private club in Bedminster, N.J., last month to make her pitch in person.
And Fox News has been drawn into a public battle not only with Mr. Trump but with Mr. Carlson, who is still on contract and being paid by Fox despite having his show taken off the air. Fox sent Mr. Carlson a cease-and-desist letter after he aired a series of videos on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. The Trump campaign’s conversations with Mr. Carlson — and the possibility of counterprogramming — have previously been reported by multiple news organizations.
Spokesmen for the Trump campaign, the R.N.C. and Fox News did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Mr. Carlson also did not respond to requests for comment.
Fox News executives and personalities have been lobbying the former president, both publicly and privately, to participate in the debate. But Mr. Trump has been openly attacking Fox and has privately vented his animosity for the network’s owner, Rupert Murdoch.
Even so, Mr. Trump has privately also given top executives and anchors at Fox the impression that he was open to and even seriously considering their entreaties.
Earlier this month, Mr. Trump hosted for dinner the Fox News president Jay Wallace and the network’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, who had gone to Bedminster hoping to persuade Mr. Trump to come to the debate. They left the dinner believing there was a decent chance he would show up, according to two people familiar with the dinner.
Mr. Trump’s apparent decision to skip the debate comes on the heels of his fourth criminal indictment. The latest indictment came from the Fulton County, Ga., district attorney, who accused Mr. Trump of taking part in a criminal conspiracy to subvert the transfer of power after he lost the 2020 election in the state.