Predicting anything with regard to Donald Trump’s candidacy for president is a mug’s game, as anyone who’s been paying attention for the past year has to acknowledge. But last night, when the Fox network used its flagship broadcast channel to air a weirdly chummy interview of the bombastic billionaire by Megyn Kelly, his erstwhile media punching bag, it certainly made the viewer wonder: Is this how the normalization of Donald Trump begins?
Kelly, of all people in the media, has earned the right to make Trump answer for his behavior on the campaign trail. Since the first presidential debate, after which he seemed to suggest that her tough questioning of him was connected to her menstrual cycle, Trump has for months attacked Kelly personally and used his large social media following to amplify his supporters’ crude and misogynistic assaults on her.
Last night’s interview, though, far from calling Trump to account for his behavior, felt more like a couple of old high school friends recalling a long-ago spat.
“‘Bimbo?’” Kelly asked at one point, needling Trump about some of the things he had called her.
“Uh, well, those retweets, yeah…” Trump said. “Did I say that?”
“Many times,” Kelly replied.
“Oooh. Okay,” Trump said with a cheesy smile. “Excuse me?”
Kelly asked Trump whether his angry tweets and comments about her over months were genuine, or something calculated for show. “You seemed to stay angry for months. Was that real, or was that strategy?”
“Well, I am a real person. I don’t say, ‘Oh, gee, I am angry tonight, but tomorrow you are my best friend,’” Trump replied.
That must be news to former Trump opponents. Dr. Ben Carson, whose mental stability and religious beliefs Trump questioned during the campaign immediately became a close and trusted adviser as soon as he dropped out of the campaign. Marco Rubio was the object of much of Trump’s bile in the weeks before the Florida senator dropped out of the race. Afterward, Trump commented about how much he likes Rubio.
But Kelly didn’t challenge Trump on this obvious inconsistency.
In fact, she didn’t really call him on much at all other than his name-calling. Anyone hoping that the sit-down interview at Trump Tower in New York, conducted more than two weeks ago, would illuminate Trump’s shifting stances on economic and social policy would have been disappointed. There was no significant discussion of his most controversial policies: the border wall, the Muslim ban, mass deportations, a tax plan that would cost the Treasury Department trillions of dollars in lost revenue, etc. etc.
Kelly instead tried to delve into the Trump psyche, asking him about his brother’s death from alcoholism, whether he had ever been bullied as a child, and whether he had ever been emotionally “wounded” by anyone.
The answers were less than revelatory. Trump spoke fondly of his brother, who died of complications of alcoholism in his early 40s, but it was nothing he hasn’t said before. He declined to go into specifics about times when he has been “wounded” emotionally, but said, “When I am wounded, I go after people hard. OK? And I try to ‘unwound’ myself.” Again, hardly a surprise.
Asked about how he has conducted his campaign so far, Trump again declined to get into specifics, but as usual found a way to spin vice into virtue.
“Absolutely, I have regrets,” he said. “I don't think I want to discuss what the regrets are, but absolutely I could have done certain things differently. I could have maybe used different language in a couple of instances. But overall, I'd have to be very happy with the outcome. And I think if I didn't conduct myself in the way I've done it, I don't think I would have been successful. Actually, if I were soft, if I were "presidential," okay — in a way it's a bad word; there's nothing wrong with being presidential — but if I would not have fought back the way I fought back, I don't think I would have been successful.”
More of a combination of “My Way” and “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien,” really.
Whether Kelly has any regrets, looking back at a lost chance to try to pin down a man who could be in the White House this time next year, is another question.