IOWA CITY — When the Republican presidential candidates meet in Iowa Thursday for the last debate before Monday's caucuses, Donald Trump is all but certain to be a no-show, a huge disappointment to his legion of supporters in Iowa.
Trump supporters who spoke with the Washington Examiner before his final rally on the University of Iowa's campus expressed disappointment with Trump's decision, which he announced at an early evening event Tuesday in Marshalltown.
"I'm going to vote for him no matter what. But personally, I think he should go," said Harlan Garvin, a 70-year-old Trump supporter from Cedar Rapids, who still is surprised with Fox News' Megyn Kelly's question in August's GOP debate about Trump's well-documented history of disparaging comments toward women.
"I think he should go, and then when she asks a question that's off base, just say the hell with that question and talk about Hillary," Garvin said donning a "Make America Great Again" hat. "Tell them what a horses*** candidate she is — liar. We could either have a liar or a socialist, or somebody that's a Republican."
Some expressed pure surprise at Trump's announcement, which came only shortly before the event, leaving many in the crowd ignorant a mere hour before Trump took the stage.
"I don't know why. I don't know why he's not [participating]," said Terry Christensen, a 68-year-old from Sioux City who is deciding between Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz. "I don't know what to think. Why wouldn't he? ... I guess he's ahead in the polls, so he's not worried, I don't know."
While multiple Trump supporters expressed hope that he would show up for the Thursday's debate in Des Moines, they understand why he isn't planning to attend.
"If Donald doesn't want to show up, right now as it stands, Donald doesn't have to show up," said Bob Sieren, 55, from near Iowa City. "Yeah, I would like to see him show up. But if he don't, I won't hold it against him."
"The first debate where Megyn Kelly was involved, [she] was a little bit hostile towards him, so I think he's taking it personally," said Roger Halstead, 65, from Cedar Rapids. "I'm not sure I agree with him staying out of it, but that's his personal decision."
"It's true," Halstead said about the comment Fox News sent out telling Trump he can't pick and choose who to deal with. "I really think that he'll show. I think he will, I hope he will anyway. There are times I wish he had a little bit of filter on... [but] I think he reacts as anybody else would."
Trump will hold an event Thursday night opposite the FNC debate, which his campaign says will benefit wounded veterans. His absence also leaves seven Republicans on the debate stage, with Sen. Rand Paul making his way back to the main stage after missing out on the last one.