ATLANTA – Organizers at the conservative RedState Gathering have disinvited Donald Trump to their event in response to the billionaire presidential candidate’s escalating attacks on Fox News host Megyn Kelly, an ugly feud that also prompted an outpouring of criticism from several of Trump’s 2016 rivals.
The move by RedState editor-in-chief Erick Erickson, came after Trump complained that Kelly was too tough on him while moderating Thursday’s debate, telling CNN “there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” Kelly had questioned Trump on his rhetoric towards women, quoting instances in which he called female critics a “dog” or “fat.”
Trump was scheduled to close out the event’s main proceedings with a party Saturday night. Erickson announced he canceled the speech to RedState attendees on Saturday morning, prompting a round of cheers and applause – and some boos – from the audience.
“I don’t want my daughter in the room with Donald Trump tomorrow night so he’s not invited,” he said.
Erickson said he called Trump’s campaign after the CNN interview, but was unsatisfied with their explanation that Trump had been misinterpreted. Instead, he has reached out to Kelly to invite her to take Trump’s speaking slot, though it’s unclear if she’ll accept.
“I think he has disqualified himself at this point,” Erickson told reporters late Friday after first announcing the decision. He predicted that the episode “probably is the beginning of the end” for Trump.
Trump responded with his signature fury, saying through a spokesman on Friday that Erickson was a “weak and pathetic leader,” then taking to Twitter on Saturday to declare “political correctness is killing our country” and claim his remarks about Kelly were misinterpreted.
“Mr. Trump made Megyn Kelly look really bad – she was a mess with her anger and totally caught off guard,” he said in a statement on Saturday. “Mr. Trump said ‘blood was coming out of her eyes and whatever’ meaning nose, but wanted to move on to more important topics. Only a deviant would think anything else.”
Trump noted that Erickson, who he called “a total loser,” had a long history of inflammatory comments himself, including a tweet in which he called Supreme Court Justice David Souter a “goat f***ing child molester.” Erickson responded on Twitter that he had erred in the past, but – unlike Trump – he had acknowledged his remarks and apologized.
News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire includes Fox News, also responded on Twitter to say the network’s debate moderators did “fine journalism.”
“Friend Donald has to learn this is public life,” he added.
Speakers at the RedState event Saturday include presidential candidates former Alabama Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Carly Fiorina, who spoke on Friday, tweeted her support for Kelly on Friday, saying “there is no excuse” for Trump’s comments. Huckabee repeatedly declined to criticize Trump on Saturday, but told reporters he considered Kelly a fair and professional interviewer.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has tangled with Trump repeatedly over the last few weeks, applauded Erickson’s move in a statement.
“As a party, we are better to risk losing without Donald Trump than trying to win with him,” Graham said.
Walker also joined the fray Saturday, tweeting, “I agree with @CarlyFiorina, there’s no excuse for Trump’s comments. Stand with @MegynKelly.” Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement that Trump’s rhetoric “demonstrates a serious lack of character and basic decency.”
Bush, who spoke at the RedState gathering Saturday afternoon, asked the conservative crowd, “Do we want to win? Do we want to insult 53% of all voters?” Adding, “Mr. Trump ought to apologize.”
Others were more reluctant to antagonize Trump. Huckabee repeatedly declined to criticize the candidate on Saturday, but told reporters he considered Kelly a fair and professional interviewer. Cruz, who has hailed Trump’s emphasis on immigration in the past, talked generally about the importance of respect, but said he wouldn’t wade into “the politics of personalities.” Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who declined to criticize Trump during Thursday’s debate, said that people should not “tear people down just because they disagree with you.”