On Tuesday, Fox News host Megyn Kelly said she and her network “may have overestimated” Donald Trump’s “anger-management skills.”
At Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C., Kelly defended asking Trump her “war on women” questions that set the tone during Fox News’s GOP debate. She said she gets paid to ask tough questions and “anticipate the candidates’ weaknesses and poke them.”
“It’s not like I was looking to make an example out of Donald Trump,” she alleged, according to The Hill. “The reason I asked that is not a comment on Megyn Kelly. It was a comment on his electability and what he’s likely to hear from Hillary Clinton should he become the nominee. You’re already starting to hear that from Hillary Clinton.”
She added that “you don’t want to embarrass anyone with their weaknesses, but by the same token, these people want George Washington’s job.”
“They were tough questions [and] no one was given a pass. Some of them were hard to ask,” she said.
After Fox News started its debate by singling out Trump by asking candidates to raise their hands if they were “unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican party and pledge to not run an independent campaign against that person,” Kelly asked Trump about disparaging comments he had made about Rosie O’Donnell and other women. Her questioning wasn’t completely honest, though, as she dug through old episodes of The Apprentice and deliberately took one of Trump’s quotes out of context.
“You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees,” Kelly said, without putting those words in the context of a reality show episode in which Trump was responding to a team leader who said former Playboy model Brande Roderick (who has said there was nothing misogynistic about the remark) dropped to her knees to ask to work on that week’s project.
According to Fortune, “Kelly said the first round of questions that the Fox News moderators posed to the candidates during the debate all followed the same electability theme behind the question to Trump” and nobody was given a pass. But all of the other candidates received questions during that round that more or less dealt with policy issues. Dr. Ben Carson was asked about being unfamiliar with political parties in Israel. Rubio was asked about his lack of executive experience (what a tough question!). Bush was asked about Americans being tired of the Bush dynasty. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was asked about being a “divisive” figure who hates the GOP establishment (that helps him with the conservative base). New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was asked about his state’s credit downgrades. Walker was asked about being too pro-life. Huckabee was asked about being too socially conservative (that helps him with Iowans). Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was asked about blaming the rise of ISIS on neoconservatives (that helps him with his libertarian constituency). Ohio Governor Kasich was asked about expanding Medicaid.
And though Kelly insisted that she and her Fox News colleagues were just as tough on the other candidates, Trump and Fox News viewers did not think so at all and felt the network was intent on damaging Trump and airing his dirty laundry.
Other GOP candidates have plenty of baggage that Democrats can potentially use in a general election as well. But Kelly and Fox News never asked Rubio, for instance, why he charged personal purchases to the Florida GOP’s credit card or about his association with David Rivera (and the home that they purchased that later faced foreclosure). She did not ask former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee about the man who assassinated four police officers after Huckabee commuted his prison sentence. She did not ask Carly Florina about the golden parachute she received from Hewlett Packard and the lavish purchases she made while Hewlett Packard shipped jobs overseas and cut thousands of others under her watch.
In an interview with CNN after the debate, Trump said of Kelly, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her–wherever.” He also said that Chris Wallace seemed to have “blood pouring out of his eyes.” Trump, continuing his feud with Kelly, has re-tweeted tweets that referred to Kelly as a “bimbo” and mocked Kelly for taking an “unscheduled two-week vacation” right after the debate, implying she could not take the heat and backlash that came after the debate. Trump has mocked Kelly on Twitter, saying her show was better when Shannon Bream was guest-hosting. Fox News viewers, much to the network’s surprise, were reportedly incensed as well at the network, convinced that Fox News was trying to damage Trump in order to help more establishment candidates.
NY Mag‘s Gabe Sherman told Newsmax that “in the days after the debate, all of the emails and messages that Fox News was getting from their viewers were pro-Trump emails” and Roger Ailes and Fox News executives “were shocked at the volume of the response.”
“And they really didn’t know what to do because their audience loves Trump and yet fox by all measures hammered him,” he said.