Presidential debates, huh? Sure, they may be farcical reflections of our eroding political culture, and they may provide next to nothing that's deeply valuable to our discourse, but they sure can be fun! That's true even when you agree with virtually none of what's being said. Remember that epic inaugural GOP primary debate that Fox News hosted earlier this month? It revealed Carly Fiorina as a rising star, Donald Trump as an unslayable beast, and moderator Megyn Kelly as an impossible-to-intimidate questioner. And we believe that Kelly should moderate the next debate, too.
[Update: A Fox rep confirmed to The LA Times that Megyn Kelly will moderate the January debate.]
Kelly's questioning of Trump undeniably went down as the single biggest moment in the debate, both because of his unpleasant response — he dismissed criticism of his history of verbal abuse toward women as "political correctness" — and because of her unflappability in challenging him. In fact, she even used the phrase "war on women," which has gained traction in recent years as an anti-Republican statement used by Democrats.
Since then, Kelly has been the target of exactly the kind of ire she was asking about, with Trump tacitly calling her a bimbo through a retweet and making an apparent insinuation to her menstruation (he has denied this, insisting he was talking about a nosebleed). She was also reportedly the target of death threats from angry Trump fans. Here are five reasons that her return to that stage would be exciting, and important.
1. It'll Be Good Television
A debate with Kelly returning as moderator will be a lot more watchable, because it gives a sense of uncertainty and expectation that's so often missing. Oh, all the Republicans on-stage together? So Rand Paul will mention the Bill of Rights, Rick Santorum will highlight his anti-abortion cred, Mike Huckabee will say something gross, etc. You kind of know the lay of the land. But with Kelly in the fold, you've got a moderator who clearly isn't afraid to ask pointed, direct questions, even if the question cuts against the thirsts of the GOP base. Her query about Trump's sexist comments was the most direct way that Fox News has ever brought up the subject. Suffice to say that questions about sexism on the part of Republican candidates aren't normally in the network's wheelhouse.
2. The Haters Need To Learn
And by "haters," I mean the people who've been tweeting offensive and childish things, as well as the downright grim, at Kelly. In fact, you can basically add Trump to that list — as I mentioned above, he retweeted somebody calling her a "bimbo" hours after the debate ended, and he's been needling at her publicly ever since.
Simply put, it's imperative that Fox News stand behind Kelly. Trump isn't an employee of News Corp., and she is, and on that basis alone, they should be supporting her. More to the point, it must be clear that they're not going to let their moderators be pushed around by a crude billionaire just because he draws big ratings.
3. Trump Clearly Can't Handle It
What adjective would you use for someone who spends their post-debate early morning hours antagonizing a moderator on Twitter? I feel safe in saying that "presidential" isn't one of them. In the most basic sense, Kelly returning to the fray is important, because Donald Trump's sexism and poor impulse control are a big part of his story, and it's evident even in his attempted dealings with Kelly — a representative of a conservative news channel that he really wants favorable coverage from. If he's unable to contain this kind of hostility with all the cameras watching, then that's something important for everyone to see.
4. She's An Accomplished Professional, And She Did A Good Job
Since the first debate, Trump's made a lot of noise about what he perceived to be bad treatment from Kelly. He's basically been leaning into the idea that it was in some sense improper and unprofessional for her to bring up his offensive remarks. Just to lay this point to bed, here's what she actually asked him that night:
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?
That is in every sense a valid, appropriate question to ask of somebody seeking a presidential nomination. If you're a Republican voter and you seriously don't care about your candidate having this kind of track record, that's your business, I guess. But you can't fault Kelly for trying to save you.
In spite of probably knowing pretty well that it wouldn't go over without some backlash, Kelly addressed what appears to be a gaping flaw in Trump's character as a candidate. And that's the kind of direct probing you want from the person asking the questions.
5. She's Not That Bad, As Fox News Goes
One side effect of the Trump/Kelly dust-up is that there's been some hand-wringing on the left over whether she deserves public support. After all, the thinking goes, she's a vocal conservative herself, and she's said some very offensive things, and no less unapologetically.
But obviously, some women are conservative! That's just a reality. And conservative women deserve every bit as much as progressive ones to have overt sexism against them denounced. And besides, let's be honest: She's not that bad, as Fox News hosts go. They're all going to sound inane at some point, given the network's broadly retrograde cultural attitudes, but she's a lot better than a Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly. Although in fairness, O'Reilly's reign as the worst voice on Fox is hard to top.