The firestorm that’s brewed between Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and Fox News host Megyn Kelly came to a head Monday, with Kelly addressing the controversy for the first time.
Trump began the onslaught hours after Kelly questioned him during Thursday’s GOP primary debate about his rhetoric towards women, quoting instances in which he called female critics a “dog” or “fat.” “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” Trump said Friday during a phone interview on CNN, triggering backlash from liberals and conservatives alike. He told msnbc’s “Morning Joe” on Monday that he felt Kelly should be apologizing to him for asking “a very inappropriate question.”
But after a weekend of radio silence, Kelly chimed in about Trump’s attack, telling viewers of “The Kelly File” on Monday evening that she would not apologize.
“Apparently Mr. Trump thought the question I asked was unfair and felt I was attacking him. I felt he was asked a tough but fair question. We agreed to disagree,” Kelly said. “Mr. Trump gave interviews over the weekend that attacked me personally. I have decided not to respond.”
“Mr. Trump is an interesting man who has captured the attention of the electorate. That’s why he’s leading in the polls,” she continued. “Trump, who is the front-runner, will not apologize. And I certainly will not apologize for doing good journalism.”
Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes spoke with Trump on Monday and publicly defended Kelly. “We discussed our concerns, and I again expressed my confidence in Megyn Kelly,” Ailes said in a statement. “She is a brilliant journalist and I support her 100 percent. I assured him that we will continue to cover this campaign with fairness & balance. We had a blunt but cordial conversation and the air has been cleared.”
Trump’s comments about Kelly caused RedState Editor-in-Chief Erick Erickson to rescind Trump’s invitation to the conservative RedState Gathering, which took place over the weekend in Atlanta. Trump was scheduled to close out the event’s main proceedings with a party Saturday night, but Erickson announced to RedState attendees on Saturday morning that he canceled the speech, prompting a round of cheers and applause — and some boos — from the audience.
Since then, several of Trump’s GOP rivals have criticized Trump. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul on Monday called Trump “an empty suit” and “a bully” in a conference call with reporters. “I think that while some people are excited by fat jokes and stupid jokes, that I think there are a lot of people in the general election — independents, as well as probably many of, uh, women voters, aren’t really that entertained by this,” Paul said.
—Additional reporting by msnbc’s Benjy Sarlin and NBC News’ Ali Vitali.