Fox News host Megyn Kelly killed at the Republican debate held in Cleveland on Thursday night. In what may survive as one of the most pivotal moments of the entire 2016 marathon, the prime time Fox News anchor put a zinger of a question in front of current front-runner Donald Trump. This exchange happened:
Kelly: One of the things people love about you is that you speak your mind and you don’t use a politicians filter. However, that is not without its downsides in particular when it comes to women. You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals, your Twitter account …
Trump: Only Rosie O’Donnell.
Kelly: No it wasn’t. Your Twitter account. For the record it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell.
Trump: I’m sure it was.
Kelly: Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks, you once told a contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice” it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president? And how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton who is likely to be the Democratic nominee that you are part of the war on women?
It was better live than via transcript. A moment like that doesn’t arise without extreme preparation, and the moderators of Thursday night’s debate — Kelly and Bret Baier and Chris Wallace, all Fox News anchors — talked at length about how much work they did in paring down questions not only for the whole field, but also for specific candidates. Tough questions, for instance, faced New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker over their respective records in their states. Those fellows handled them like the experienced politicians that they are.
Not so Trump. There will be various storylines to emerge from Thursday night — a solid showing from Sen. Marco Rubio, an amazing interaction between Christie and Sen. Rand Paul over government surveillance, for example. But if Trump’s fortunes start sinking, as just about every pundit in the land has predicted, the Kelly-Baier-Wallace team will get a significant share of the credit. And they’ll deserve it.
In addition to the Kelly killer question on women, Wallace went after Trump too, seeking any evidence he could supply to corroborate his claim that the Mexican government was conspiring to send illegal immigrants across the border. This was a smart move: Interviewer after interviewer has asked Trump if he wanted to apologize for his statements that the folks crossing the border from Mexico were “rapists.” Each time, Trump recommitted himself to his bigotry, with no penalty.
Better, then, to push him on this lower-profile matter. So after Wallace asked Trump for the goods, the real estate mogul responded with a bunch of issue-dodging nonsense, much as a traditional politician might. “So, if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be talking about illegal immigration, Chris,” said Trump, who went on to attack the media, talk about a wall with a “big, beautiful door” and the need to “keep illegals out.” Wallace heard him out and then announced, “I’ll give you thirty seconds to answer my question.” (Fox News has posted this video). Trump failed again, with this laugher:
Border Patrol. I was at the border last week. Border Patrol. People that I deal with that I talk to. They say this is what’s happening because our leaders are stupid, our politicians are stupid. And the Mexican government is much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning and they send the bad ones over because they don’t want to pay for them. They don’t want to take care of them. Why should they when the stupid leaders of the United States will do it for them? That’s what’s happening whether you like it or not.
With that, the ultimate outsider candidate lay exposed as just another sidestepping politician, in front of a crowd at Quicken Loans Arena and a tidy national audience.
Another theatrical moment came right at the beginning, when Baier asked the 10 candidates if they could issue a pledge that they wouldn’t bolt the party and run as a third-party candidate, an approach likely to assist the Democratic nominee. Trump was the only one who wouldn’t make such a commitment.
Seeking commitments from the candidates over party purity was an odd way to get started. Though certainly an interesting tack, it made the panel of Fox News moderators look more like protectors of the Republican Party and less like neutral inquisitors. Other portions of the proceedings felt the same way, like when Kelly pushed Kasich on one of his moves. The full question:
Governor Kasich, You chose to expand Medicaid in your state, unlike several other governors on this stage tonight, and it is already over budget by some estimates costing taxpayers an additional $1.4 billion in just the first 18 months.You defended your Medicaid expansion by invoking God, saying to skeptics that when they arrive in heaven, Saint Peter isn’t going to ask them how small they’ve kept government, but what they have done for the poor.Why should Republican voters, who generally want to shrink government, believe that you won’t use your Saint Peter rationale to expand every government program?
Premise: Justify your un-Republican decision to extend greater health benefits to the poor!
Amazing how much Fox moderators are acting as the enforcers of GOP orthodoxy.— Nick Baumann (@NickBaumann) August 7, 2015
Well, if enforcing orthodoxy of any sort means embarrassing Trump, that’s the best kind of enforcement. There was some talk earlier this week that Rudy Giuliani had called Fox News chief Roger Ailes earlier this week to plead for easy questions for Trump. Giuliani denied it.