Trump will hold a fundraiser instead of appearing at next week’s Republican presidential debate

NEW YORK — As his top Republican rivals return to the debate stage next week, former President Donald Trump will headline a behind-closed-doors fundraiser in Florida.

Trump’s campaign is advertising a chance to win tickets to the “year-end reception” in Hallandale Beach, Florida, near Miami on December 6.

The former president has opted to skip his party’s three previous primary debates, citing his commanding lead in early state and national polls. But his decision not to host a public counter-programming event to spark debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, marks a change in strategy.

Trump held a rally in the Miami suburb of Hialeah during the final debate that in many ways felt like the main event. He traveled to Michigan instead of the second debate to protest President Joe Biden during an auto worker strike at an auto parts factory. And he sat in on a pre-recorded interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson that was released on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, to coincide with the first GOP rally.

A senior Trump aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the decision, cited declining interest in the debates given Trump’s dominant front-runner status.

Next Wednesday’s debate comes as former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has seen a wave of support that has threatened Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ status as a distant number two behind Trump.

The two are expected to continue clashing on a stage with just a handful of candidates as the Republican National Committee raises the threshold for entry. To make the podium, candidates must get at least 6% in two approved national polls, or 6% in polls from two separate early voting states. They must also have raised money from at least 80,000 unique donors.

Several high-profile candidates, including South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and former Vice President Mike Pence, have already withdrawn from the race.

Trump and his campaign have called on the RNC to cancel the rest of the debates and instead focus on supporting him against Biden.