Donald Trump blames lackluster interest in Newsmax debate on his potential WH bid

Donald Trump
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Updated at 4 p.m. ET

Businessman and television personality Donald Trump on Friday blamed the theoretical possibility that he might run for president for the lackluster interest in his upcoming debate.

In a statement, Trump said presidential candidates are "very concerned" that the reality show host may announce next year he's running for president as an independent.

"Unless I conclusively agree not to run as an Independent, they will not agree to the Newsmax debate scheduled for December 27, 2011," he said.

Trump insisted he is not willing to give up his right to run as an independent, in case the "right candidate" doesn't receive the Republican nomination. The host of NBC's "The Apprentice" has repeatedly claimed he might make a bid for the White House.

"The American people are embarrassed by the gridlock currently taking place in Washington," Trump said in his statement. "I must leave all of my options open because, above all else, we must make America great again!"

On Thursday, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann became the latest candidates to say they are skipping the debate. Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman have also said they're opting out of the debate, hosted by the popular conservative media outlet Newsmax and the cable television station Ion.

Huntsman told Fox News he's skipping the debate because "I think there ought to be a little bit of dignity associated with the run for the presidency of the United States."

Perry's camp said he will be focusing on campaigning that week -- one week before the Iowa caucuses -- and Romney's campaign similarly said the former Massachusetts governor was too busy to attend.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Thursday said Trump's potential candidacy makes his role as the debate moderator "problematic."

So far, the only candidates who have said they'll attend the debate are Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. However, Newsmax intends to go on with the debate as planned, Steve Coz, editorial director of Newsmax Media, confirmed to Hotsheet.

"We're full steam ahead," Coz said. "We're obviously disappointed more candidates didn't come forward... [but] what everyone is ignoring is that we have the frontrunner."

Coz backed the remarks Gingrich gave Friday, when he said, "I think if you're afraid to debate with Donald Trump, people are going to say, 'so you want me to believe you can debate Barack Obama but you're afraid to show up with Donald Trump?'"

In an interview with radio host Don Imus on Friday, Trump berated the candidates who are skipping the debate, telling Imus, "some of them don't have the courage to do" it. "A couple of them called me and told me, 'Donald, I'm just too nervous to do it,'" he said.

Trump said he was especially disappointed in Bachmann for planning to skip the debate, noting that the candidate has met with him four times.

"She'd call me, she'd ask me for advice, she said I should be her vice presidential [running mate]... If she wins, she'd like to think about me for the vice presidency, all of these things," Trump said. "And then after all of that, she announced she's not going to do the debate. It's unbelievable. You know, it's called loyalty. It's actually called loyalty. How do you do that? You know, it's amazing to me."