megyn kelly
Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly will be one of the panelists in Thursday’s Fox/Google GOP debate. Trump cited a question from her in August among the reasons why he’s skipping it. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Donald Trump will skip the GOP debate on Thursday, and he’s betting that the next Republican debate will garner few viewers with him gone. Despite his physical absence, Trump will be the GOP elephant in the room. His unprecedented decision not to attend the debate could dominate the discussion, as his rivals take a free round of attacks ahead of the contentious Iowa caucus on Feb. 5th. Ted Cruz will be the first Republican contender besides Trump to take the center podium, normally reserved for the leader in national polling of GOP voters.

Even before Trump dropped out of the next GOP debate, Fox News announced that viewers can watch it online for free. So the Fox republican debate might be sans- Trump but it’s also sans- cost. The Fox GOP debate is co-hosted with Google, and airs at 7 p.m. EST. Fox News has left an open invitation for Trump to rejoin the debate.

Viewers can watch it without a cable subscription on the Fox News website .

The debate panel with include Megyn Kelly , the Fox News reporter who Trump cited in his decision to skip the debate, calling her a “light weight journalist” who was not “fair” to him in an August Fox News debate. He clarified on Wednesday that his choice was provoked more by Fox News, who criticized him when he initially indicated that he might skip the event. In the letter, a representative of the country insinuated that if Trump couldn’t handle questions from Kelly, he wouldn’t be able to handle the leaders of Russian and Iran.

“Trump is still welcome at Thursday night’s debate and will be treated fairly, just as he has been during his 132 appearances on FOX News & FOX Business, but he can’t dictate the moderators or the questions,” the company said in a statement.

Trump doesn’t seem likely to change his mind. Late Wednesday he announced an alternate event in Des Moins, Iowa, a "Special Event for Veterans" starting one hour before the GOP debate.

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