Shortly after Donald Trump said he was skipping Thursday's televised GOP debate, Fox News host Megyn Kelly -- one of the debate's moderators -- isn't totally buying it, telling ET's Jen Peros exclusively, "I'll be surprised if he doesn't come."
"I know he says he doesn't want to now, but I'll really be surprised because I feel like the people of Iowa are still persuadable," Kelly says of the Republican front-runner's decision to not participate in the Des Moines, Iowa event.
"He's in a tight race with Ted Cruz," Kelly explains. "I don't know why he wouldn't take one last opportunity to make his case to them in such a huge forum."
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It's Fox News and Kelly’s involvement with the upcoming debate that led to Trump's refusal to participate, a statement his campaign released on Tuesday says.
Trump and Kelly have been at odds ever since the presidential hopeful unleashed a series of verbal attacks against the journalist after she moderated the first Republication debate last August.
Kelly questioned Trump about controversial remarks he’s publicly made about women in the past -- including his public use of the terms "fat pigs," "dogs," "slobs" and "disgusting animals" in reference to female politicians and celebrities he doesn't like.
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After the debate, Trump got in hot water after telling CNN that Kelly appeared to have it out for him, adding, "There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever." Fox News CEO Roger Ailes admonished Trump for his comments about Kelly, but Trump refused to apologize.
Though the two have a tumultuous history, Kelly insists she’d give Trump a fair shake if he changes his mind. "I have no conflict and no bias against Donald Trump," she maintains.
And Kelly understands why Trump -- she calls the 69-year-old business mogul "a showman"-- is getting as much attention and support he's been enjoying in recent months.
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"Whatever you have to say about Trump you can't deny that he is compelling television personality," Kelly said. "Part of his appeal is he does speak directly to you. He doesn't use the prompter, there's no veneer, so you feel like you can really connect with him. So I'm not surprised that people respond to him so well."
For now, Trump will be leading "an event in Iowa to raise money for the Veterans and Wounded Warriors" instead of participating in the debate, according to his campaign’s official statement -- though Kelly implores Trump to change his mind.
"I really do hope he comes to the debate,” she says. “I think it would behoove him to stand there and be tested next to his fellow candidates."
"Do it. Stand there, engage, do well, do better, take on the other guys, let's get into, let's have fun, let's have a meaningful substantive exchange," Kelly says. "Or not."
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Fox News responded to Trump's announcement on Tuesday night, saying that the primary candidate's refusal to "debate seven of his fellow presidential candidates" is "near unprecedented."
The news network pinned Trump's decision solely on his acrimony toward Kelly, "whom he has viciously attacked since August and has now spent four days demanding [she] be removed from the debate stage." "Capitulating to politicians' ultimatums about a debate moderator violates all journalistic standards," the statement continued.
Even so, Fox News says Trump is still welcome to participate in Thursday's debate and he "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 statement concluded.
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