In an interview with TIME just hours before Trump bailed from Thursday’s Fox News debate, Kelly even found some nice words to say about the celebrity real estate developer. “He doesn’t care about that P.C. culture,” she said. “It’s a breath of fresh air.”

That doesn’t mean Kelly is giving any credence to his criticisms of her. “Working the refs is part of the job,” she said. Asked if she actually had any bias towards any candidate, she answered, “Absolutely not.”…

Kelly knows all the sound and fury is part of Trump’s brand. “I haven’t been on Twitter as much lately,” she deadpans. Speaking more broadly about the tone of the 2016 race, she cautions that some of the candidates have been cavalier in their approach. “They want George Washington’s job. They all need to watch their communications carefully,” she said.



According to one highly placed source, last night, Ailes sent out the now-famous statement mocking Trump as being scared to meet with the “Ayatollah” and “Putin” if he became president. “That was Roger 100 percent,” the source explained. “A lot of people on the second floor” — where top Fox executives work — “didn’t think it was a good idea.”…

New signs emerged today at just how frantic Ailes has become to get Trump back to the table. The two men have not spoken since yesterday, sources told me. This morning, Joe Scarborough reported that Ailes called Trump’s daughter Ivanka and wife, Melania, to get through to the GOP front-runner. But Trump is saying he’ll only talk to Rupert Murdoch directly. In a further challenge to Ailes’s power, Bill O’Reilly is scheduled to host Trump. Last night, Ailes directed Sean Hannity to cancel Trump’s interview. O’Reilly’s refusal to abide by a ban adds a new dynamic to the clash of egos. For O’Reilly, this is an opportunity to take back star power from Kelly. Sources say O’Reilly feels he made Kelly’s career by promoting her on his show, and he’s been furious that Kelly surpassed him in the ratings.

Meanwhile, Fox producers are scrambling with the practical matter of how to program the debate without Trump. “Right now, it is about how the moderators handle Trump,” one producer said. “They do not want to be seen either directly criticizing him since he’s not there, and they don’t want to seem like they are drumming up criticism by letting the candidates attack Trump rather than stake out their own positions and debate one another. For all the talk of the optics right now, the bigger issue is how to program a debate without the front-runner. Remember, Fox may be a political machine, but it is still a damn good television programmer.”


Last week, moderator Megan Kelly convened a special panel of anti-Trump writers from National Review to mark the launch of their attack on Trump. This week, Fox News prepared for the debate by inviting a Muslim activist who has criticized Trump to be one of three YouTube personalities to question the candidates. And on Tuesday, as Trump considered whether to participate in the debate, Fox issued a petulant, snarky press statement mocking him…

No candidate should agree to participate under those conditions. Indeed, the other GOP candidates–including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who led the charge against Harwood–should be standing with Trump against Fox, on principle, instead of attacking him. And conservatives who are mocking Trump should look in the mirror and ask themselves whether they are applying a different standard to center-right Fox News than they do to the mainstream media…

How hard would it have been for Fox News simply to issue a statement expressing disappointment and reiterating that the debate would proceed as planned? Instead, Fox cast aside neutrality and integrity to join the political fray…

Fox News’ behavior towards Trump is the kind of bias viewers have turned to Fox to avoid. We would not tolerate it from NBC or CNN–and we should not tolerate it when Fox News sinks to–and below–their level.


It was that second meeting that closed her “open mind.” According to Cheri Jacobus, at that meeting Lewandowski showed himself to be an, “unhinged, unethical, naive, hot-head.”

For example the campaign manager bloviated how Fox News was going to lead their campaign effort. He pulled out an email from Roger Ailes to Trump (which someone must have printed out for billionaire because he isn’t an email user). Trump had hand-written a note on the email to the campaign manager, but the real joy (for Trump and Lewandowski anyway) was the words of Roger Ailes who said he would help Trump anyway he could. That is not an email one shares with a person who has not yet joined the team. Jacobus added that Lewandowski told her if she worked for the Trump campaign, the billionaire could get her a Fox contract, “I almost laughed out loud” she said, “Bribe much?”


At every turn, the GOP presidential front-runner tries to be the top boss. He rarely puts himself in situations where he’s not in control — and Thursday night’s Reublican debate in Des Moines was shaping up that way. So he backed out, sending the network into a frenzy and putting him in control of the conversation again. Trump once again became the boss…

With each debate, Trump seemed to angle for more control, even taking credit for reducing the length of a debate in late October from three hours to just two. Everything is negotiable, he likes to say…

Unlike other candidates, Trump doesn’t have to worry about being forgotten. His competing event will be heavily covered by the media. Rather than sharing the stage with several rivals, Trump will dominate the microphone. Rather than having to answer questions about his stances on abortion and other conservative issues, he can talk about whatever he wants…

Trump has left everyone with this cinematic cliffhanger: Will he change his mind and rejoin the debate? Will he host his own show?

Either way, Trump is in control.


“How thin-skinned is he that he can’t take any criticism and how will that effect his ability to be the president?” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wondered in a Boston Herald Radio appearance Wednesday morning…

“It’s sort of a double win for me because not only am I on the main stage, but we don’t have to put up with a lot of empty blather and boastfulness and calling people names,” said Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul on Fox News, noting that up to a third of Iowa caucus-goers are undecided in the Republican race…

At least one candidate predicted Trump would relent and return to the stage to avoid ceding a mass audience of viewers to his rivals. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he did show up,” Ben Carson said at a Bloomberg Politics breakfast…

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was among the first to bash Trump for his decision to skip the debate, lacerating him on Twitter on Tuesday. “Do you know who else is scared of tough qs from Fox & @megynkelly?” Bush tweeted. “Barack Obama. Enough whining.”


Monday’s Iowa caucuses will present us with the first opportunity to measure the real-life electoral effects of one of his tiresome, oxygen-hogging stunts. If Trump follows through on his supposedly settled vow to not participate in Thursday night’s debate, he’s applying more pressure on himself to win Iowa to confirm that he does, indeed, get away with everything. If he skips the debate and ends up losing Iowa, he will look like a tactical fool who made the most boneheaded, avoidable error of the cycle. The impression that he has it all figured out, experts be damned, will begin to crack. If his stunt pays off, though, that will only reinforce the impression that the rules are whatever Donald J. Trump decides they are…

But if it doesn’t get worked out and Trump does not appear in the final debate, then that opens him up to quite reasonable charges that he’s trying to run out the clock in Iowa against Sen. Ted Cruz. One imagines that Cruz would wield this argument against Trump in the debate, and Trump would not be there to respond. It might fire up Cruz’s supporters, already the best organized in Iowa, to push their man over the top.

How would that look for Trump? To have the impression out there that he had this wrapped up until he chickened out of facing both Kelly and his main rival? Trump is trying to spin this as a show of strength, as representative of the hard-line negotiating tactics that could be expected of his presidency. Were he to stay out of the debate and have Iowa taken from him in the final days, he would look like, well, a crappy dealmaker, and one who’s drawn too much from a finite well of good fortune. It would be a crack-up.

But if he stays out of the debate and wins Iowa anyway? He’ll be in greater control than ever.


What may be the most intriguing possible explanation is that a debate, at this point in his neck-and-neck contest with Senator Ted Cruz, would almost certainly subject Mr. Trump to tough questions about vulnerabilities – like his previous support for abortion rights, or his much more recent suggestion that Iowans, the people whose votes he is courting, are stupid.

People who have spoken with Mr. Trump insist he believes he is headed to victory here and wants to play out the clock, a view that was bolstered by a few public opinion polls this week.

But whether he does or not, a debate – particularly one moderated by a network, and an anchor, whom Mr. Trump believes is motivated to challenge him aggressively – amounts to an uncontrollable, high-risk confrontation whose outcome could greatly affect his chances.


“I think it’s a mistake and I say that because there are a lot of caucus goers who have not made up their mind,” said Yepsen, who is currently the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan passed on an Iowa debate and it didn’t help his campaign, Yepsen noted. Reagan lost the Republican Iowa caucus vote to George H.W. Bush that year.

“It hurts, it takes away from the campaign and it makes it look like they have something to hide, especially on the eve of the election,” Yepsen added. “I don’t buy it that it has to do with Fox. I think that it’s a strategic decision to sit on a lead and avoid taking hits here at the end.”


[H]owever Trump’s fight with Fox News executives turns out, among actual Iowa voters, the whole contretemps could confirm and further support an uneasiness about Trump — not that he’s wrong about some particular position, not that Iowans doesn’t want to make America great again, not that most people don’t cheer attacks on political correctness — rather, an uneasiness about the sheer unpredictability of life under a President Trump.

“It’s just erratic behavior,” said a top Cruz aide in a phone conversation Wednesday morning, after Trump’s decision had a night to sink in. “It was emotion-based. It was centered on him. People are a little nervous about electing someone who is so knee-jerk.”…

“You can feel it now,” [Steve] King says of a change in voter attitudes. “People are starting to see [Trump’s] personality come out, with the relentless Twitter attacks. He can’t seem to discipline himself.”…

“When you think of an imperial presidency handed off to an uber-imperial president that doesn’t seem to be restrained,” King told me, “then that’s an uber-imperial presidency the likes of which we have never seen.”


Though it’s a radio interview, you can almost hear Eric Trump nodding in agreement. He responded: “It gives the American people, actually, I think, the first look into politics. It’s something I had never seen before until I got a back-row seat to this whole crazy race. But it shows that there are a couple of people up at the top who try to control politics a lot more, right? I mean, this should be the decision of the American people, this should be the decision of them, not the decision of some network which wants to influence which candidate will ultimately be the head of the GOP. And that’s really what’s happening and it’s really kind of disingenuous. Politics have really been turned on their face, right?”

Right, Eric Trump — especially the politics of Fox News.

For years and years, others have articulated this same critique of Fox News. Commentator Frank Rich, for one, ripped the network as a “right-wing propaganda machine.” Former Obama White House communications director Anita Dunn said on CNN in 2009 that “Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party.” Former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller called Fox News the “cultural home of the Republican Party and a nonstop Obama roast.” Media Matters has much, much more on the topic.

What’s new is that these arguments are now being articulated by Eric Trump, the son of the Republican presidential front-runner. It’s a problem that no statement from Fox News, no matter how clever, can resolve.


Trump is so far outside the formula that has been established for American politics that people who are inside the formula can’t comprehend it. They don’t understand why somebody would want to venture so far outside it, because it is what it is, and there’s a ladder of success that you have to climb. And somebody challenging it like this in more ways than one, as Trump is doing, has just got everybody experiencing every kind of emotion you can: They’re angry, they are flabbergasted, they’re shocked, they’re stunned — and all of it because he’s leading.

Everything he’s doing goes against the book. Everything that any analyst or consultant or professional would tell you not to do, Donald Trump is doing it, and he’s leading the pack. This creates its own set of emotions and feelings and thoughts that run from person to person. Now, the political business, if you want to look at it that way, is like any other business. It has its people who are considered the elites in it — and like any business, they hate outsiders. They don’t want outsiders just storming in trying to take over, and much less succeeding at it…

They want to be in charge of who gets in the club. They want to be in charge of who’s allowed to rise or climb the ladder in the club. Politics is no different, and all of those determinations are made by who gets money and who doesn’t. But Trump is functioning totally outside this structure that has existed for decades. As such, the people who are only familiar with the structure and believe in it and cherish it and want to protect it, feel threatened in ways that you can’t even comprehend. So that leads them to try to figure out: How is all this working for Trump? Why do his followers grow? Why does his support expand every time he busts a rule wide open?


I’ve been hearing about the impending “conservative crackup” for nearly 25 years. The term was coined by R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., the founder of The American Spectator. He meant that conservatism had lost its philosophical coherence. But the phrase almost instantly became a catchall for any prediction of the Right’s imminent demise or dissolution…

Well, thanks to Donald Trump, tomorrow may be here. There’s a fierce internecine battle over whether to oppose Trump’s run, passively accept his popularity, or zealously support his bid…

There’s no shortage of reasons for the fact that the Right is at war over whether or not to take a flier on Trump. All of the various establishments and the counter-establishments overpromised and underdelivered in recent years. Congressional leaders talked a big game while campaigning but played small ball once reelected. Cruz and his supporters accused his fellow politicians of being corrupt sellouts, and so many people believed him, they’d now rather take a gamble on Trump than back Cruz, a mere politician.

Tomorrow seems closer than ever before.