4 Crucial Lessons Megyn Kelly Can Learn From The First Republican Debate When She Moderates January's
There are a lot of hugely valid complaints you can have with how political debates work in this country, but it's hard to deny that they create some of the most memorable shared moments in politics. You know, the time we all watched Richard Nixon sweat it out, or Gerald Ford fall flat, or (less consequentially) Rick Perry drop his brain for a bit. And now in 2015, you've got the Donald Trump/Megyn Kelly fracas, one of the most illuminating and depressing debate spectacles in recent memory. Here are 4 lessons Megyn Kelly can learn from that debate when she's heading into the next one in January, because there will still be a lot of tension riding on that moment.
Kelly returned to the airwaves this week, hosting Fox News' The Kelly File on Monday. She'd been on vacation for the week-and-a-half prior, a trip which Trump speculated he had something to do with. Fox News responded to this with a withering statement, calling Trump's suggestion a conspiracy theory.
Basically, considering Trump's been going after Kelly for a while over her direct, entirely appropriate questioning of him, and he seems hell-bent on continuing, it's a safe bet this'll still be on people's minds come January. Here are some takeaways from the last debate that might help Kelly prepare for the encore.
1. Questioning Donald Trump Is Like Tweeting At Gamergate
Since the first debate, one thing's been very clear: when Donald Trump shines some of his vitriol-suffused light on you, a lot of ugliness rolls out of the woodwork. This is well-demonstrated by reports that Kelly received death threats from angry Trump supporters in the debate's aftermath, as well as a spike in the pairing of offensive slurs with her name on Twitter. In other words, thanks to a brush with Trump's toxicity, her social media mentions were poisoned.
Sad as it is to say, it appears enough Trump supporters are willing to behave really, really badly on Twitter to cause quite a stir. It doesn't help that Trump's basically one of them, either — despite previously striking what was widely reported as a truce with Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, he's still directing derogatory, misogynistic tweets her way.
This is the place where Trump seems the most like a Gamergate candidate, frankly. Where endgames or strategic considerations all seem less compelling than the chance to publicly harass a high-profile woman.
2. The Audience Could Get Ugly
Debate audiences are unpredictable beasts, and they can often be what makes a moment truly unforgettable. I, for one, will never forget the reception when Brian Williams questioned Rick Perry's use of the death penalty during a 2011 primary debate — the very mention of his record-setting execution figures triggered a thunderous ovation. Macabre was an understatement.
Similarly, when Kelly first questioned Trump about his litany of public and alleged verbal attacks against various women — she summarized it as "fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals" — his comeback was to claim he'd only said those things about Rosie O'Donnell, a joke which set off a cascade of laughter.
It wasn't true, of course — as Kelly rightly got him to acknowledge, his comments go way past O'Donnell. But even if it had just been about her, the reaction was still pretty ugly to behold, and if Kelly asks Trump a tough question again, he'll probably try to provoke just this kind of derailing reaction.
3. Your Crew Might Not Have Your Back
To Fox News' credit, we've finally seen this start to change Tuesday, following Trump's latest barrage of petty insults — a number of on-air personalities and Fox's chairman have condemned Trump's behavior on Twitter, hopefully a sign that the channel's patience has run out.
But even if things are turning around now, the relatively bloodless approach Fox News took to this point is startling. Kelly is one of their youngest and most popular on-air personalities, and the only thing she did in that debate was ask entirely legitimate, fair questions.
When you consider how combative and protective an organization Fox News can be, its reaction to a candidate launching a veritable harassment campaign against her Twitter had been startlingly mild, and least publicly.
4. ...But All This Drama Could Be Done By Then
If there was one really obvious lesson that the dual-tiered debate hammered home, it was that there are too many candidates. And it's a virtual certainty this problem will be eased a bit by the time January rolls around — Rick Perry's campaign, for example, already looks to be in dire straits.
And a narrowing field is no help to Trump. Quite the contrary, the bloated list of candidates and the earliness of the race are huge reasons he's been able to sit as high and mighty as he has. Once more candidates start dropping out, and the his more-credible opposition begins to consolidate, Trump could be overtaken quickly.
Basically, there's no guarantee that Trump will be anywhere near as relevant a player by the time January rolls around, and as such, his involvement as regards to Kelly could be a moot point. But if nothing else, we've learned something throughout all this too — that Kelly's more than ready to question whoever's standing center stage. whether it's likely to be popular or not.