Megyn Kelly’s close encounter with Donald Trump must have been a bitter disappointment to anyone hoping for blonde-on-blond violence.
During Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate on the Fox News Channel, their interactions were among the most civil in a back-and-forth between the White House aspirants that occasionally descended into schoolyard taunts.
Indeed, Trump persisted in addressing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who despite his shorter stature was the frontrunner’s most relentless antagonist during the session in Detroit, as “Little Marco.” At one point—and this was clearly a groundbreaking, if not ennobling, moment in the history of presidential debates—Trump even bragged about his penis size.
This was part of an exchange—in which Kelly, thankfully, did not participate—during which Trump complained that Rubio was continually mocking his “small hands” on the stump (they are not small, Trump insisted) and countered Rubio’s apparent suggestion that another part of Trump’s anatomy might be equally diminutive.
“I can guarantee you there’s no problem,” the would-be commander in chief boasted.
Welcome to Campaign 2016, folks.
Judging by Trump’s polite and even ingratiating demeanor, one would hardly know that debate co-moderator Kelly was the same Fox News prime-time star whom Trump has spent the past seven months trashing mercilessly on Twitter and elsewhere, coarsely alluding to her menstrual cycle, retweeting remarks that she’s a “bimbo,” and otherwise waging a celebrity jihad ever she since grilled him about his unpresidential temperament during the Fox-sponsored debate last August in Cleveland.
Indeed, the Republican frontrunner skipped the last Fox News debate in January, just before the Iowa caucuses, precisely because he was unable to bully Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes into dropping Kelly from the lineup of moderators that, like Thursday night, included Bret Baier and Chris Wallace.
It wasn’t until a half-hour into Thursday night’s two-hour program that she finally confronted the reality show billionaire who has behaved so ungentlemanly, indeed thuggishly, toward her.
“Mr. Trump. Hi,” Kelly began, smiling puckishly.
“Hello,” Trump responded, obviously getting the joke.
“How you doing?”
“Nice to be with you, Megyn.”
“Great to have you.”
“You’re looking well. You’re looking well.”
Then Kelly launched into a question about a recent BuzzFeed report that Trump had told editors at The New York Times, during an off-the-record interchange, that he was much more flexible on immigration policy than his hardline public stance would suggest.
Trump—obviously a more battle-schooled candidate than he was seven months ago—answered Kelly with calm equanimity, and zero defensiveness, as though she had asked him whether he was enjoying the balmy weather.
He said he wouldn’t call for the release of any off-the-record conversations, because that would violate some sort of hallowed principle of American democracy, and that he wasn’t as flexible as might be surmised, because he was still going to build that big ol’ wall, and Mexico was still going to be press-ganged into paying for it.
At this juncture, Kelly and Trump resembled nothing so much as an estranged couple who had undergone an acrimonious divorce but now can’t remember why they hate each other, and somehow manage to speak to each other politely and productively about the children’s visitation schedules.
Trump didn’t even lose his cool when Kelly asked: “Mr. Trump. One of the things people love about you is they believe you tell it like it is. But time and time again in this campaign, you have actually told the voters one thing only to reverse yourself within weeks or sometimes days.”
And then she ambushed him with a series of video clips showing him flip-flopping on issues ranging from the war in Afghanistan, to whether the United States should accept refugees from Syria, to whether President Bush 43 lied the nation into the military adventure in Iraq.
Trump was unfazed, if a tad incoherent, serenely explaining his pretzel-like circumlocutions as though they made perfect sense, and even amiably invoking a long-ago interview about Iraq with radio shock jock Howard Stern, “a great friend of mine—and yours.”
And so it went.
Now that Trump can taste ultimate victory—or at least the prospect of becoming the GOP standard-bearer—he seems to be triaging his voluminous enemies list.
Megyn Kelly, for now, is no longer on it.