“Let’s talk about us,” Megyn Kelly purred to Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee who has spent the past nine months—until now, anyway—heaping all sorts of vile epithets on the Fox News star.
Trump—who has called Kelly “crazy,” “highly overrated,” and a bunch of other tweeted insults, along with speculating about the impact of her menstrual cycle on her journalism—was the headline interviewee Tuesday night on Megyn Kelly Presents, her first prime-time broadcast special on the Fox Television Network.
Judging from the advance hype, largely stoked by Kelly herself in multiple appearances on various TV outlets in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s broadcast, it was going to be a meeting worthy of the claw-to-claw combat between Godzilla and Mothra.
After all, Trump’s attacks on the anchor had started to become so ugly that Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes authorized a company statement asserting that “Donald Trump’s vitriolic attacks against Megyn Kelly and his extreme, sick obsession with her is beneath the dignity of a presidential candidate who wants to occupy the highest office in the land.”
But instead of a showdown, Kelly’s mano a mano with The Donald took on the trappings of couples counseling—and perhaps, at points, even a screwball encounter in a 1930s romantic comedy.
“I asked you a tough question about women. Bimbo?” Kelly demanded at one point, reminding Trump of one of the poison-tipped arrows he aimed at her in the heat of battle.
“Over your life, Megyn, you’ve been called a lot worse,” the candidate deflected—although he probably wasn’t referring to the words “bitch,” “slut,” “whore,” and other charming descriptors fired at the host of Fox News’s The Kelly File by Trump’s fanatical supporters on social media.
Although the session didn’t live up to its prurient promise of blonde-on-blond violence, it didn’t disappoint.
Kelly managed, for the most part, to knock the 69-year-old candidate off his well-worn talking points, getting him to engage in what passes for introspection and even eliciting an apology of sorts for his deeply ungallant behavior in the aftermath of the Aug. 6 Fox News debate in which she held him accountable for his misogynistic remarks about a multitude of women over the years.
In case anyone has forgotten, Kelly replayed the infamous debate exchange on Tuesday’s program:
Kelly: “Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is that you speak your mind. You don’t use a politician’s filter. However, that is not without its downsides, in particular when it comes to women. You have called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals. Your Twitter account includes several—.”
Trump: “Only Rosie O’Donnell.”
Kelly: “No, it wasn’t. For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell.”
Trump: “Yes, I’m sure it was.”
Kelly: “Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?”
Trump: “What I say is what I say and honestly, Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be based on the way you have treated me, but I wouldn’t do that.”
On Tuesday night, sitting 4 feet away from her quarry at the end of a green granite boardroom table in Trump Tower—she in bright red dress, he in his usual dark suit and white shirt, graced by an iridescent blue tie—Kelly grilled the candidate about his overwrought reaction to her debate question.
“We were always friendly,” she began.
“Right. Good relationship,” he agreed.
“And then came the Aug. 6, 2015, debate, and I asked you a tough question about women, using only the words that you had used. I thought it was a fair question. Why didn’t you?”
“I thought it was unfair,” Trump retorted. “I didn’t think it was really a question; I thought it was more of a statement…That’s the first question that I have ever been asked during a debate. And I have never debated before. I mean, my whole life is a debate, but I have never actually debated before. And I am saying to myself, ‘Man, what a question’… So I am saying to myself, ‘I got two hours of this?’ I don’t really blame you because you are doing your thing. But from my standpoint, I don’t have to like it.”
“You know,” Kelly persisted, “it’s not a cocktail party.”
In a rare burst of self-reflection, Trump mused: “I’ll tell you what: In a certain way, what you did might have been a favor, because I felt so good about having gotten through. I said, ‘If I could get through this debate, with those questions, you can get through anything.’”
“You seemed to stay angry for months,” Kelly noted. “Was that real, or was that strategy?”
“Well, I am a real person. I don’t say, ‘Oh, gee, I am angry tonight, but tomorrow you are my best friend,’” Trump replied.
The candidate added that he respected Kelly for phoning him last month to get together and hash things out. “To me, I would not have done that,” he said, acknowledging that this probably doesn’t speak well of him. “I don’t say that as an, you know, as a positive. I think it’s a negative, for me.”
And when Kelly pressed him on his retweeting Trump supporters who trashed her as a “bimbo,” Trump did something highly uncharacteristic: He actually backed down.
“I have fans,” Trump said, during a discussion of his Twitter behavior. “But when you and I were having our little difficulty… you probably had some pretty nasty tweets sent your way… I don’t want that to happen, but our fans… We have an unbelievable bond, we have an unbelievable relationship.”
“It’s not the fans,” Kelly corrected him.
“Yeah, but not the more nasty ones,” Trump said. “You would be amazed at the ones I don’t retweet.”
“Uh, well, those retweets, yeah. Did I say that?”
“Many times,” Kelly declared—at which the candidate’s already reddish face turned positively crimson, and he looked genuinely abashed.
“Ooooh. OK,” he said with a smile and a laugh that resembled something like chagrin. “Excuse me,” he added, not in the usual hectoring way he utters that phrase, but in a softer tone that sounded very much like “I’m sorry.”
In another portion of their prerecorded sit-down—which was presented in three parts, interspersed with Kelly’s interviews of movie star Michael Douglas, O.J. Simpson lawyer Robert Shapiro, and transgender actress Laverne Cox—the reality show billionaire explained his abrasive, bullying, and crass style of communicating.
“I think if I didn’t conduct myself in the way I have done it, I don’t think I would have been successful, actually,” he said. “If I were soft… if I were… ‘presidential’… if I would not have fought back the way I fought back, I don’t think I would have been successful.”
Kelly asked if Trump, now arguably steps away from the presidency, had given any consideration to moderating his incendiary rhetoric against perceived enemies, which “creates a firestorm in those people’s lives,” she argued—especially “so-called civilians who haven’t put themselves out there as public figures.”
She pointed out: “You are so powerful now.”
“Well, I don’t view myself as that,” Trump demurred. “I mean, I view myself as a person that—like everybody else—is fighting for survival. I, that’s all I view myself as. And I really view myself now as somewhat of a messenger.”
Trump added: “When I am wounded, I go after people hard. OK? And I try to ‘unwound’ myself.”
“Most kids between the ages of 6 and 16 have been bullied at some point in their lives. Were you ever bullied?” Kelly asked.
“No, I wasn’t,” Trump confided. “But, but I have seen bullying. And bullying doesn’t have to just be as a child. I mean, I know people are bullied when they are 55 years old.”
At which the 45-year-old Kelly grinned broadly. “It can happen when you are 45,” she said, although the candidate affected not to understand her point.
In a lighter, ostensibly humorous portion of their tête-à-tête, Trump admitted that despite calling for a boycott of Kelly’s Fox News show, he continued to watch it; he also revealed that his favorite film is Citizen Kane.
It makes a certain amount of sense that the TV star/mogul who would be president of the United States relates to Orson Welles’s classic about a super-rich media tycoon who wishes to run the world.