Donald Trump's latest feud with the Fox News cable network escalated once again on Wednesday morning, when the GOP front-runner's campaign manager claimed that upcoming debate moderator Megyn Kelly is "obsessed" with bringing down the candidate.
For the past few days, Trump has oscillated over whether or not to appear in a GOP presidential debate being aired on the network Thursday, ultimately deciding not to participate. Trump has claimed repeatedly that Fox News, and Kelly specifically, have covered his campaign unfairly. Fox has responded with a stinging statement which suggested that "a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings."
“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,” they said in another statement aimed at Trump.
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Trump called the statements "wiseguy press releases" and has said he doesn't think Kelly is "professional at all" and "not a very talented person."
"They should get competent reporters, they shouldn't use somebody like her," Trump said during a phone interview on "Good Morning America." Since Trump's decision not to appear, he has been dinged by his GOP rivals and challenged to a one-on-one debate by 2016 candidate Sen. Ted Cruz. According to Lewandowski, several of the Republican candidates have reached out to Trump campaign to express ambivalence about joining the Thursday debate on Fox, raising the question: "Fox isn't going to be fair to you, what makes them think they'll be fair to us?"
"At the end of the day, Mr. Trump is going to have the last laugh," Trump's campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said during a Wednesday appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." In that same interview Lewandowski said it is unlikely that Trump will reverse course and join his fellow Republicans on stage.
"I mean, what you have with Mr. Trump is you have a clear leader, a person who, he said it best, is not going to be toyed with. A person who understands when a bad deal is in front of him and is ready to walk away from a bad deal, something that this country should be able to do. And I just don't see any way where Fox is going to have a successful debate now when you got the clear GOP front-runner who's decided to walk away from this debate because he can't be treated fairly on the debate stage, and you got a network that's going to make news not about what they're going to ask the candidates about the policy issues but about personal attacks," said Lewandowski.
Lewandowski said "this isn't about Megyn Kelly at all," even though he previously mentioned that she has "done show after show about why the media shouldn't be having him on television." He said the issue was instead moderators in general making themselves the focal point, rather than the candidates, citing the contentious CNBC GOP debate as the example.
"They go out of their way I think sometimes at Fox to put left-wing liberals on to make their own points because they can't find conservatives to do it. Or they find people who want to attack Mr. Trump personally," said Lewandowski.
Fox News has accused Lewandowski about making "threats" against Kelly. In a statement first published on Politico, the network said: "In a call on Saturday with a Fox News executive, Lewandowski stated that Megyn 'had a rough couple days after that last debate' and he 'would hate to have her go through that again.' Lewandowski was warned not to level any more threats, but he continued to do so."
Meanwhile, Trump has floated the possibility of boycotting GOP debates in the past, but has always found his way to the stage during prime-time. His battles with Fox News began at the first official top-tier GOP debate, where Kelly challenged Trump on his history of making sexist remarks about women. After a testy exchange, Trump later claimed Kelly was bleeding out of her "whatever" when she confronted him. Trump has insisted he meant her nose and ears, while many speculated the remark was a reference to Kelly's gender and menstruation.
After some social media broadsides, Trump appeared to make peace with Fox News, appearing on "The O'Reilly Factor" and "Fox and Friends" for largely cordial exchanges. In September of last year, he turned against the network again, trolling them on social media and again calling into question Kelly's credentials. What's different this time around is Trump has started to personally attack the network's powerful chairman, Roger Ailes, who has professed to be friendly with in the past.
The Trump campaign has reportedly suggested that only Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire media mogul who owns Fox can step in and resolve the conflict. "Fox is going have a 20 or 25 million person debate, but without Mr. Trump's participation, I think they may have a one or two million person debate," opined Lewandowski on "Morning Joe."