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Paul says no to Trump, joins Huntsman in skipping debate

Jim Bourg/REUTERS

Republican presidential candidates (L-R) former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, businessman Herman Cain, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman stand at attentiond during the singing of the national anthem during the CNN GOP National Security debate in Washington, November 22, 2011. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

NASHUA, N.H.--Ron Paul will not appear at the NewsMax debate moderated by Donald Trump because it is "beneath the presidency" and not worth his time, he told NBC News today. Paul joins Jon Huntsman who yesterday declined an invitation to the December 27 debate.

"I didn't think it was worthwhile to go and I didn't think it was a real debate," Paul said after a town hall meeting in New Hampshire. Paul spoke to more than 150 supporters and undecided voters.

In a statement, the Paul campaign questioned the seriousness of the debate format. "The selection of a reality television personality to host a presidential debate that voters nationwide will be watching is beneath the office of the Presidency and flies in the face of that office’s history and dignity," campaign chairman Jesse Benton said in a statement this morning.

Slideshow: Ron Paul

"Mr. Trump's participation as moderator will distract from questions and answers concerning important issues such as the national economy, crushing federal government debt, the role of the federal government, foreign policy, and the like," Benton added via email. "To be sure, Mr. Trump's participation will contribute to an unwanted circus-like atmosphere."

Trump opted not to run for president in May after a period of flirtation with the idea.

Paul -- who will participate in tonight's Fox News candidates' forum hosted by 2008 GOP candidate Mike Huckabee -- also cited Iowa-specific reasons for skipping the NewsMax debate. After he dropped out of the race for the White House, Trump bowed out of a keynote speech at a fundraising dinner hosted by the Manhattan County GOP in Iowa. He was eventually replaced by Rick Perry but not before extensive planning around his anticipated speech and printed invitations had been distributed.

"I didn't think we should honor Trump because he dishonored the Republican Party out in Iowa by stiffing them," Paul said in New Hampshire today. "And they lost a lot of money out of it. I think he ought to apologize to the Republican Party of Iowa and see if he can help them out for the money they lost."

The Paul campaign did leave the option open to later consider a debate appearance, but only if Trump apologizes to the Iowa GOP and "rectifies in full the situation."

Last night, Jon Huntsman declared he also will not attend the NewsMax debate.

"We have declined to participate in the 'Presidential Apprentice' Debate with The Donald," Huntsman spokesperson Tim Miller said. "The Republican Party deserves a serious discussion of the issues so voters can choose a leader they trust to defeat President Obama and turn our economy around."

"We look forward to watching Governor Romney suck up to Trump with a big bowl of popcorn," Miller continued.

GOP front-runner Newt Gingrich has confirmed he will attend, but the Romney campaign has yet to publicly accept or decline the invitation to the Trump debate.