MACON, Ga. -- Donald Trump has threatened to charge CNN $5 million for his appearance in the next Republican presidential debate, which the network will host on Dec. 15 in Las Vegas.
"How about we do this for CNN: I won't do the debate unless they pay me five million dollars, all of which money goes to the wounded warriors or goes to vets?" Trump said Monday night to a crowd of about 5,500 at a rally in this central Georgia town, located about 85 miles south of Atlanta. "I would love to do that."
The crowd seemed to love the idea, too, loudly cheering -- although not nearly as loud as they cheered when Trump said "dumbass politicians" only worry about being reelected. Trump's threat came amid a rant about CNN's coverage of his campaign, which he says has been unfair and doesn't fully capture the strength of the political movement he has sparked. (Trump did say he is happy the network is now using a more flattering photo of him.)
This isn't the first time Trump has threatened to charge for his participation. Ahead of the September GOP debate, Trump floated the idea of charging CNN $10 million that would be split between 10 charities.
Over more than eight minutes, Trump walked the crowd through the pros and cons of charging for his participation: Such a ploy would divert some of the massive new revenue that television networks have made off the suddenly popular debates to former members of the military, especially those wounded in battle, he said. And Trump said he likely has the power to make that happen, given his popularity in the polls, large rally crowds and success on his former reality television show, "The Apprentice." Trump pointed out he was able to successfully limit the length of the debate hosted by CNBC.
But Trump acknowledged this strategy could backfire on him and weaken his standing in the polls.
"So, with CNN, here's what they'll say: 'Trump's chicken. He's afraid to debate. He's afraid to debate,'" Trump said. "Now: If you're not leading and you're going nowhere, you have nothing to lose. But wouldn't it be bad: I'm leading the polls, I don't do it, I play cute -- because you're playing cute, right? -- it gets out I'm chicken, which I'm not. One thing I'm not is chicken."
Trump then posed a question to the audience: "So, should I tell CNN that I'm not doing the debate because they treat me really unfairly, and say: But I will do it if you give $5 million to the vets?"
Trump continued debating the pros and cons aloud.
"Should I do it or not?" Trump said. "I don't know if I want to take the chance. I don't know."
Trump then launched into telling the crowd about his success in negotiating a "tremendous salary" of $213 million for appearing on "The Apprentice" -- the NBC reality game show that Trump called "this phenomenon" that was once "the hottest show on television" -- without reaching a final decision on the upcoming debate.
DelReal reported from Macon, Ga. Johnson reported from Washington.