Donald Trump said Thursday that he is unexcited about the forthcoming primary debate and irritated by CNN's coverage of his campaign, but he confirmed that he will appear at the network's GOP forum scheduled for Tuesday in Las Vegas.
"When you're leading in the polls, I think it's too big of a risk to not do the debate," Trump said in an interview at Trump National Golf Club in the Virginia suburbs of Washington. "I don't think I have the kind of leverage I'd like to have in a deal, and I don't want to take the chance of hurting my campaign. So, I'll do the debate."
The GOP front-runner's decision comes after days of hedging and complaints over the lack of compensation he has received for being a ratings boon for hosts of primary debates.
Over the weekend at a rally in Macon, Ga., he suggested that CNN should pay $5 million for him to appear.
CNN "doesn't treat me properly," Trump told the crowd there - and he might not "do the debate unless they pay me."
"I've been talking to them," Trump said Thursday. "CNN is going to make a fortune because of me. I would love to say, 'Give $5 million to Wounded Warriors,' " a veterans group. "I still hope they do."
But Trump acknowledged that his ability to force CNN's hand is limited. He said the network's ratings would probably suffer if he did not appear - and he would be criticized.
"If I don't do 'em, the problem will be: 'Oh, he's chicken, he's using that as an excuse,' " Trump said. "Every single person doing the debate would knock the hell out of me and say I'm afraid to be there. The one thing I'm not in life is a chicken."
Over a plate of eggs at his clubhouse overlooking the Potomac River, Trump shrugged off the importance of debates in general, calling them unnecessary for his campaign, which has drawn heavy media coverage.
Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said Trump's decision does not mean his frustrations with the media have abated.