WALL, N.H. — In a dramatic capitulation, President Trump on Wednesday night rejected calls from his own party for a real debate about foreign policy with the rival he will meet in a presidential debate Oct. 8, declaring that the joint appearance would be too far afield from his message to his base of voters.
“The only thing you’re doing is looking for attention,” Mr. Trump told a small gathering of reporters in a New Hampshire hotel. “You’re looking for publicity.”
The president told a tiny audience in his campaign headquarters in Washington, D.C., that he would have “a great TV show for you all to watch” on the eve of the second presidential debate with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Mr. Trump added: “I have done debates in the past where I didn’t agree to it, but as far as I’m concerned, that debate will take place on October 22nd.”
The reluctance of the president to confront Mrs. Clinton directly on foreign policy overshadowed the debate that was just days ago set to be held at New Hampshire’s Union Station, where virtually the entire campaign of the leading Republicans in the race was held, and likely to be attended by tens of thousands of Democrats.
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign responded by saying that she was prepared to face Mr. Trump head-on about foreign policy, and that now that he had agreed to the debate, they would make sure it had the right format.
“We have been prepared to debate foreign policy issues in multiple formats and will still hold the debate,” Glen Caplin, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, said in a statement. “Now that the Republicans have admitted that the format is good for Secretary Clinton and the American people, we will adjust and move forward.”
Others in the New Hampshire, where four weeks ago, many of the campaigns appeared to be pulling back, appeared relieved to be on a night without the heightened tensions that had flared on a previous night.
“I think they realized this is going to hurt the people of New Hampshire. I think they realized that they couldn’t really move the debate date,” said Brendan Steinhauser, Mr. Trump’s New Hampshire co-chairman. “This has been a volatile couple of weeks, and I think this calmed down a little bit.”