The Note: Does Donald Trump Have An Empty Podium Problem?

VIDEO: Donald Trump Drops Out of Final GOP Debate Before Iowa
WATCH Donald Trump Drops Out of Final GOP Debate Before Iowa Caucus



--TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER SAYS THE DONALD IS 'NOT AFRAID' TO DEBATE: Donald Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, says that the candidate isn't afraid of Thursday night's debate. "He’s not afraid to take a question," he told ABC’s GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS on "Good Morning America" today, ABC’s RYAN STRUYK reports. "The issue is an issue of fairness," he added, claiming that Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly was "obsessed" with Trump. "It's not appropriate to have someone like that on the debate stage," he continued. "It's impossible to have a fair and honest debate." The Republican presidential front-runner said yesterday he is pulling out of tomorrow’s Republican debate, hosted by Fox News, after a feud with the network escalated over the final days before the crucial Iowa caucuses.

--WHAT FOX IS SAYING: Fox News said it isn't backing down from Kelly's questioning on Trump's comments about women. "I maintain it was a tough but fair question and we agreed to disagree," Kelly said last night on her show. "Capitulating to politicians’ ultimatums about a debate moderator violates all journalistic standards," a Fox News spokesperson said in a statement, adding that Trump is still welcome at the debate. "We can’t give in to terrorizations toward any of our employees." Fox also said in their statement that Lewandowski told network leaders that Kelly "had a 'rough couple of days after that last debate' and he 'would hate to have her go through that again,'" adding that he continued to make "threats."

--WHAT TRUMP WILL DO INSTEAD: "We’re going to do something simultaneously with the debate,” Trump said in Iowa last night. "Let them have their debate.” Trump said he will hold an event for veterans and wounded warriors. "Obviously we would love all of the candidates to participate but each campaign ultimately makes their own decision about what's in their best interest," RNC communications director and chief strategist Sean Spicer said in a statement. ABC’s JOSH HASKELL, JOHN SANTUCCI and KATHERINE FAULDERS have more:

--ANALYSIS -- ABC’s RICK KLEIN: This greatest reality series of all political time gets the denouement it deserves, though one that only makes sense in retrospect: Donald Trump, master of all media, seeking to go around the most powerful media organization in Republican politics. Yet, in taking on Fox News and threatening a debate boycott just four days before Iowa, Trump may have finally picked a fight he cannot win. His adversary is Roger Ailes, a veteran of politics and media who knows what makes Trump tick, and what ticks him off. Yes, he was provoked into boycotting – but this was Trump’s decision to threaten not to show, and not build himself off-ramps from his threats. It’s hard to imagine a riskier gambit for a candidate on the verge of winning Iowa and potentially running the table. Yet it’s also hard to imagine a more fitting ending to the pre-vote stage of the campaign: The candidate who’s always been a show unto himself, putting on his own show.

--A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DONALD TRUMP-MEGYN KELLY FEUD: The feud between Trump and Kelly first started last August at the very first Republican presidential debate. ABC’s PAOLA CHAVEZ and VERONICA STRACQUALURSI have more.


WHAT WE’RE WATCHING -- MIKE HUCKABEE CHANNELS ADELE: Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s campaign released a music video parody of Adele’s “Hello,” in which Huckabee appears melodramatically on a phone as scenes from the campaign trail in Iowa play and a woman’s voice sings, "Hello from the caucus night. If Bernie wins I'm gonna die.” The song, which lasts a minute and a half, hits Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz over his eligibility, too. "Hello Ankeny," the voice croons. "Arctic blasts, sub-zero chills, campaigning is a dream." WATCH:


BY THE NUMBERS -- CLINTON'S ADVANTAGE HITS A CAMPAIGN LOW. Hillary Clinton’s advantage over Bernie Sanders has shrunk to its smallest of the 2016 campaign, with Sanders building a double-digit lead on honesty and trustworthiness and negating Clinton’s onetime strength in connecting with voters’ priorities, ABC’s GARY LANGER notes. Clinton still leads in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll in trust to handle individual issues – with the exception of regulating banks and other financial institutions – as well as on electability. She’s also aided by broad support from non-whites and by her association with the Obama administration, given the president’s vast popularity within the party.

--CLINTON LEADS SANDERS NATIONALLY BY 55-36 PERCENT among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who are registered to vote. Her support is at a new low (albeit by a single point); Sanders’ is at a new high, up 8 percentage points from last month, led by a 17-point gain among independents. Clinton’s 19-point lead is down from 31 points last month, a previous low of 26 points in November and a vast 52-point advantage in July. Clinton’s single greatest vulnerability has worsened in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates: Sanders now leads by 12 points, 48-36 percent, in being seen as more honest and trustworthy, vs. 6 points last month and an even split in October. Should Clinton emerge as the nominee, it’s an issue the Republican candidate likely will repeat at every chance.



THOUSANDS RALLY FOR SANDERS DAYS BEFORE IOWA CAUCUS. Bernie Sanders confidently took a detour from campaigning in Iowa to hold events in neighboring Minnesota last night. A massive crowd of 15,000 people came out to hear the Democratic hopeful speak in St. Paul at an evening rally, according to event staff. Earlier in the day, 6,000 people joined him for an event in Duluth. The Vermont Senator, known for the massive crowds he has drawn all over the country during his campaign, walked on stage in St. Paul holding his wife Jane’s hand. When he arrived at the podium he pumped his fist and shook his head, as though humbled and shocked by the sight of the crowd, ABC’s MARYALICE PARKS writes. “My god, what a turnout,” he said as the room cheered and chanted his name.

HILLARY CLINTON WOULD CONSIDER APPOINTING PRESIDENT OBAMA TO SUPREME COURT. A second Clinton administration could mean a future Justice Barack Obama. At a campaign event in Deocorah, Iowa yesterday, Hillary Clinton lit up when a voter asked her if she would consider appointing the president to the Supreme Court should she win the White House, ABC’s LIZ KREUTZ notes. "Wow, what a great idea. No one has ever suggested that to me, I love that, wow," the Democratic presidential candidate responded. "He may have a few other things to do but I tell you that's a great idea." "I would certainly take that under advisement," she told the crowd of 450 people inside a ballroom at the Winn Hotel about a potential Justice Obama. "I mean he’s brilliant, and he can set forth an argument, and he was a law professor, so he’s got all the credentials."

GEORGE PATAKI ENDORSES MARCO RUBIO FOR PRESIDENT. Former New York Gov. George Pataki is throwing his support behind Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, ABC’s RYAN STRUYK reports. "I am proud to endorse Marco Rubio," Pataki said Tuesday in an interview with Fox News, adding that he believes Rubio is the right person to unite the Republican Party. "Donald Trump is dividing us," Pataki said. "Marco Rubio is going to bring us together."

TRUMP LANDS ENDORSEMENT OF CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY LEADER. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has landed another high profile endorsement that will play well with Evangelical voters. Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, endorsed Trump Tuesday, saying in a statement that Trump "is a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.” ABC’s JOHN SANTUCCI reports, Falwell became president of the university in 2007 after the death of his father, Jerry Falwell Sr., who founded the Christian college in Lynchburg, Virginia.

HOW 6 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES WENT FROM FRIENDS TO FOES. What happens when friends run against friends for the presidency? This year’s race for the White House may be a good indicator. Erstwhile political pals are now scuffling on the debate stage and at each other’s throats on the campaign trail. Just take Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, who attended Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s wedding in 2005. Today, the geniality has worn off as the two frontrunners go after each other. But they aren’t the only ones. ABC’s PAOLA CHAVEZ looks at how six presidential candidates went from friends to foes.



CHRIS CHRISTIE’S 82-YEAR-OLD DAD HAS BECOME HIS MOST EFFECTIVE SUPER-VOLUNTEER. It’s 9:30 a.m. on an icy cold Saturday morning in Dover, New Hampshire, and Chris Christie’s most dedicated volunteer is already hitting the pavement, going door-to-door in what will be a full day of canvassing for the man he believes should be the next President of the United States: His son. The New Jersey governor’s 82-year-old father, Bill Christie, makes his way across another ice-packed driveway at a confident clip to climb the steps of the sixth house he’s visited that morning with no answer at the door. It’s just the start of the some 160 doors he knocks on in an average day. ABC’s JORDYN PHELPS has more.



@BillKristol: Trump using wounded vets for campaign stunt is disgusting.If Trump wanted to help vets he could quietly write checks to groups helping them.

@meridithmcgraw: No sitting POTUS has participated in a primary debate & in 1980 Reagan skipped out on the Iowa debate, lost to HW: …

@PhilipRucker: Really interesting @WaPoSean piece on Rubio talking openly about his faith in Iowa …

@woodhouseb: Check out our fancy posters. How are the @GOP candidates different on the issues? Their not! 

@jdickerson: If only there were some way in the coming days to determine what Iowa caucus attendees really think about the quarreling candidates.