ABC drops Union Leader from Republican debate, Donald Trump takes glee

Donald Trump holds a copy of the New Hampshire newspaper, The Union Leader, during a December rally in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Donald Trump holds a copy of the New Hampshire newspaper, The Union Leader, during a December rally in Nashua, New Hampshire. –CJ Gunther / EPA

The New Hampshire Union Leader has been dropped as a sponsor of the Republican presidential primary debate February 6, ABC lead spokesperson Julie Townsend confirmed Sunday to Boston.com.

As it had in December’s Democratic debate, the paper was set to have a “minor role’’ in the debate, which is being sponsored by ABC News, the Independent Journal Review, and local ABC affiliate WMUR.

According to Townsend, the parting of ways with the Union Leader will not subtract from the strength of the debate, which is set at Saint Anselm College in Manchester.

ABC News Vice President Robin Sproul emailed the paper, explaining that the network wanted candidates to feel that the partners were “not biased in favor of or against anyone on the debate stage.’’

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“We felt that the current war of words with Trump, coupled with the endorsement already made, put us in a difficult position,’’ Sproul wrote, per the Union Leader. “There was just too much distraction from what we need to accomplish in the debate.’’

The paper’s publisher, Joe McQuaid, scoffed at the decision in a statement.

“We are amused by ABC apparently just discovering that we write editorials and endorse candidates,’’ McQuaid said. “We have been doing both for decades and it hasn’t been an issue for ABC or anyone else.’’

McQuaid called the ABC “spineless’’ for “bowing’’ to Trump, as well as the Democratic Party, referring to when WMUR was dropped as a sponsor of December’s debate at the party’s behest, following a labor dispute among the network, its owner and its workers.

“ABC is more concerned about appeasing the parties and candidates than informing voters,’’ McQuaid wrote. “The Union Leader will continue to serve Granite Staters by being a reliable source of information about where candidates stand.’’

The paper’s simmering feud with Trump recently reached a boiling point when McQuaid wrote a front-page editorial calling the Republican frontrunner a “crude blowhard’’ and compared him to Biff Tannen, the main antagonist in Back to the Future.

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Trump fired back at the Union Leader and McQuaid at a New Hampshire rally, and has since continued to attack the paper on social media. On Saturday, Trump tweeted he was protesting the paper’s participation in the debate.

Following reports that the Union Leader had been dropped from the debate, Trump

I am pleased to announce that I had the Union Leader removed from the upcoming debate. credited himself for the development.

Following Trump’s attack on the Union Leader, Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, defended the staunchly conservative paper.

“This ridiculous attack on New Hampshire’s statewide newspaper threatens the traditions of our First-in-the-Nation primary and makes it clear that the New Hampshire Republican Party has now fully embraced Donald Trump as their frontrunner,’’ he said.

Buckley added that Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is facing re-election this year, should denounce her party for embracing Trump.

In other news, after not participating in ABC News’ Democratic debate, WMUR news anchor and reporter Josh McElveen will be asking Republican candidates questions, along with ABC anchor David Muir and chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz, who will moderate the debate.

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