Megyn Kelly versus Donald Trump. It’s been the biggest media story of the 2016 GOP presidential race. And yesterday’s news that Trump has agreed to sit for a one-on-one interview with Kelly in May not only ushers in a new chapter in a months-long saga, it could also represent a triumph for Kelly and Fox News, but also for Trump’s designs on the White House.
It began in the opening minutes of the very first debate when Kelly challenged Trump on his past statements to women:
“Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s 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 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 was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?”
Trump’s reaction after the debate was to accuse Kelly of journalistic bias and to attack her integrity and credibility. Legions of Trump supporters hurling misogynistic and vitriolic venom at Kelly via social media, some of the attacks enjoying the imprimatur of Trump himself via a re-tweet from his powerful Twitter account.
Trump personally went after Kelly in a vicious, personal way:
“Certainly, I don’t have a lot of respect for Megyn Kelly. She’s a lightweight and y’know, she came out there reading her little script and trying to be tough and be sharp. And when you meet her you realize she’s not very tough and she’s not very sharp.” Then, came the kicker: “She gets out there and she starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions, and you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her … wherever.”
And it just got worse from there. Trump boycotted the Fox News debate in Iowa after a hot exchange of tweets and press releases. They met in a debate setting once more in March but most of the fireworks that night came from Marco Rubio and Trump’s hand size.
Now, as the primary season winds down and Trump begins to focus on his potential nomination in Cleveland and the general election showdown with Hillary Clinton, he’s decided it’s time to put the feud behind him. The announcement of the exclusive, in-depth interview scheduled for May 17th could very well be the turning point of Trump’s negative numbers with women voters (which Politico reports are hovering around 70%.)
To see this interview with Kelly as a media triumph, we have to make a couple of reasonable assumptions. First, let’s assume Kelly conducts the interview in the same way she does every night on The Kelly File, with tough, relevant and respectful questions meant to illuminate an issue and not alienate her guest. Let’s also assume that Trump, knowing all eyes are on him, will conduct himself in a respectful and restrained way including a legitimate walk-back from some of the more over-the-top comments he’s made about the Fox News superstar.
I’ll even predict that Trump offers a statement of regret (if not an actual apology) over how the feud spun out of control and how Kelly was negatively impacted by the vitriol from Internet trolls. I suspect Trump takes the opportunity to state that although he’s had differences with her, he admires the classy way Kelly has conducted herself and they let bygones be bygones from this point forward.
I think it’s also a fair assumption that Kelly accepts the apology. Why wouldn’t she? Not only has she expressed that she dislikes being “part of the story” but it positions her as a major media player in the run up to the general election. It also puts pressure on Hillary Clinton to sit with her for a similar interview. After all, Clinton recently praised Kelly as a “superb journalist” who didn’t deserve the rough treatment doled out by Trump. Well Mrs. Clinton, if Trump scould face Kelly, the “superb journalist,” why can’t you? Or, is she just a “superb journalist” when she serves your purposes as a “victim” of Trump’s misogyny? If you really respect Kelly as a journalist, grant her the ultimate respect and sit with her, one-on-one, like Donald did.
Kelly has already laid the groundwork for a “Kumbaya” moment with this quote from the Fox News statement announcing the interview:
“Mr. Trump and I sat down together for a meeting earlier this month at my request. He was gracious with his time and I asked him to consider an interview. I am happy to announce he has agreed, and I look forward to a fascinating exchange — our first sit-down interview together in nearly a year.”
If this interview goes the way I’ve laid it out, and both parties walk away with mutual respect and a “contrition sound-byte” that plays all over social media and the media for multiple news cycles, it’s a win for Kelly, a win for Fox News, and it reverses one of the most unfortunate and ugly narratives of the Trump presidential campaign.
If he can do that, it may be one of the greatest media triumphs of modern presidential politics.
Big “ifs,” I know, but not implausible at all.