Donald Trump
Trump fired back at Paul and Huntsman, even threatening a third-party run if Republican voters chose "the wrong candidate." REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Donald Trump may not be running for president, but the business magnate's very presence as moderator of the upcoming Republican debate is enough to disgust GOP candidates Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman: both men plan to boycott the Dec. 27 debate, and Trump's recent hints of an independent presidential run aren't helping matters.

The Dec. 27 GOP debate is a crucial one in the GOP primaries, taking place just one week before the Iowa primary that kicks off the 2012 race. Even if it costs them the election, however, both Huntsman and Paul say they won't show up if Donald Trump stays as host.

'An Unwanted, Circus-Like Atmosphere.'

In a statement, the Ron Paul campaign asserted that Donald Trump's presence at the debate would be beneath the office of the presidency.

Asserting that Trump's hosting would turn the debate into an unwanted, circus-like atmosphere, Paul's National Campaign Chairman Jesse Benton also slammed Trump for canceling his keynote appearance at the Republican Party of Iowa' annual Reagan dinner last spring. Benton called it yet another example of Trump treating politics frivolously.

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 wrote.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman echoed Congressman Paul's sentiments this weekend, saying he would also have to decline the debate invitation due to Trump's presence.

Trump Fires Back

Not to be outdone by the libertarian-leaning Republicans, the real-estate mogul and reality TV host fired back through The New York Daily News, saying he was more popular as a presidential candidate than either Ron Paul or Jon Huntsman.

I am glad he [Paul] and Jon Huntsman, who [have] inconsequential poll numbers or a chance of winning, will not be attending the debate and wasting the time of viewers who are trying very hard to make an important decision.

Taking a leaf out of Benton's book, Trump especially went after Ron Paul, calling him clown-like in comparison to favorites Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, whom Trump is expected to endorse.

Few people take Ron Paul seriously and many of his views and presentation make him a clown-like candidate, Trump said.

Threatens Third-Party Run

Even as he prepares to host the Dec. 27 GOP primary debates, however, Donald Trump is already threatening to (once again) re-start his abortive presidential campaign, running as a third party choice if the wrong candidate wins the Republican nomination.

Presumably referencing candidates like Ron Paul, Trump said that if voters nominate the wrong candidate, he would certainly think about running as an independent.

Although it's doubtful Trump would actually make a run for the presidency, his announcement will undoubtedly strengthen both Huntsman's and Paul's reserve to stay away from the next debate.

'The Trump Factor'

Trump has been an intermittent fixture in the Republican Party for several years now, most notably as a member of the birther movement that challenged President Obama's nationality.

In fact, meeting with Donald Trump has been seen by some as a stepping stone in recent years to launching a campaign.

Candidates like Romney, one-time runner Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann have all met with the Apprentice host this year to try and get some of the Trump Factor into their campaign. His endorsement, whether for Gingrich or Romney, is also expected to hold some weight with Republican voters.

'I not going to kiss any part of his anatomy.'

Both Huntsman and Paul, however, see no appeal in cottoning to The Donald's influence.

I don't quite understand the marching to his office, Paul said. I didn't realize he had the ability to lay on hands and anoint people.

Huntsman, who allegedly turned down a meeting with Trump, agrees. I'm not going to kiss his ring, Huntsman told Fox News. And I'm not going to kiss any other part of his anatomy.