In the latest bizarre twist in the Republican presidential primary, frontrunner Donald Trump is now conducting a poll on Twitter, asking his followers whether they think he ought to participate in Thursday night’s debate on Fox. Trump has threatened to boycott the event because, he claims, moderator Megyn Kelly is biased against him.
As of early this afternoon, with several thousand votes cast, those in favor of Trump debating were slightly ahead, 52 percent to 48 percent. While it is unclear whether Trump would seriously consider making such a decision based on a Twitter survey, the mere fact that he is conducting one on the topic demonstrates just how strange this campaign has become.
Trump launched the Twitter poll the day after Fox News took the unusual step of publicly taunting the candidate by suggesting that he is afraid to face Kelly at the event in Des Moines, Iowa, just four days before the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.
In general, news organizations that are hosting presidential debates attempt to remain above the fray, hoping to avoid the impression of favoritism or bias against particular candidates. But Trump spent much of last weekend denigrating Kelly, one of the network’s most recognizable hosts.
“I don’t like her, and she probably doesn’t like me,” he said. “I don’t think she can treat me fairly. I think she’s very biased.”
Fox News released a statement that, seemingly in jest, thanked Trump for drumming up publicity for the event, but the attacks continued. Eventually, the network apparently felt compelled to push back with a little more force.
In a statement, Fox News defended Kelly’s credentials as a journalist and added, “Sooner or later Donald Trump, even if he's president, is going to have to learn that he doesn't get to pick the journalists -- we're very surprised he's willing to show that much fear about being questioned by Megyn Kelly.”
The complicated history between Trump and Kelly goes back to the first debate of the cycle in which Trump faced some of the first aggressive questioning he had seen up to that point in his campaign. Kelly and two Fox colleagues pressed the former reality television star hard at several points in the event, but afterward, Trump saved most of his ire for Kelly, criticizing her for everything from her appearance to her ratings and memorably suggesting that she might have been menstruating at the time of the debate.
Trump has threatened in the past to boycott some of the other Republican debates, but has always turned up in the end. However, the stepped up rhetoric from both sides this time around makes it look at least possible that the mogul won’t show.
That would definitely be a loss for Fox News, which would likely enjoy lower ratings than it would for a debate with Trump present. The effect it would have on Trump is unclear. The conventional wisdom holds that skipping the opportunity to be on television in prime time is a terrible idea for a politician.
But in truth, conventional wisdom would consider practically everything Donald Trump has said or done since entering the race a terrible idea. And yet he’s the prohibitive favorite to win some or even all of the first primary states. So, who knows?