Fox News host Megyn Kelly has been known to call out sexism, when the moment is right. The moment she chose at Thursday night's inaugural Republican debate was facing down the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump. She did not relent, though that doesn't mean Trump lost any points with his base.
"Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter. However, that is not without its downsides, in particular, when it comes to women," Kelly began. "You’ve called women you don’t like 'fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.'" The crowd roared. "Your Twitter account …" Kelly continued.
"Only Rosie O’Donnell," interjected Trump. The audience loved it, whether it was the timing or Trump insulting an outspoken liberal who is a lesbian. In 2006, Trump called O'Donnell a "big, fat pig," after the heavyset comedian referred to him as a "pimp" in a blog post.
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Kelly wouldn't let him off the hook. "For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell," she said, unamused. Her other examples: Trump once told a "Celebrity Apprentice" contestant "it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?"
Trump's answer would appeal to the people listening who feel policed by changing norms. "I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct," he said. He added, "I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either." Then he said he was just joking, and then he turned on the moderator.
"Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn’t do that."
The Fox News audience likes Megyn Kelly. The Republican primary voters like Donald Trump. There is surely a major Venn diagram overlap between those two categories. How they will react to Trump's disdain being turned on a popular woman at a right-leaning network remains to be seen.
While analyzing the debate on msnbc, GOP strategist Steve Schmidt said Trump's testy words with Kelly could prove pivotal to his staying power as a presidential candidate. "How thick is the Trump Teflon with these women's issues?," Schmidt asked rhetorically. "Every other candidate on that stage had they done what did, had that exchange with Megyn Kelly, it'd be lights out, end of their political career."
But on a night where another candidate, Ben Carson, decried "politically correct wars," and where Trump's name-check of O'Donnell received delighted whoops of approval, calling out the supposed language police seems a safer bet for GOP presidential hopefuls.