Donald Trump's campaign has threatened that the GOP frontrunner will sit out Thursday's Fox News debate if Megyn Kelly is not removed as a moderator.
The latest episode in Trump's long-running feud with Kelly began on Saturday, when Trump took to Twitter to rail against the Fox News host.
Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski then indicated that Trump could sit out if his demand for Kelly's ouster isn't met. “Let’s see what happens,” he told New York Magazine's Gabriel Sherman. “It’s fair to say Mr. Trump is a significant ratings driver for these debates. If we aren’t on stage for some reason, they wouldn’t have the record 24 million viewers and would be back with 1-2 million people.”
As far as threats go, this one is exceedingly soft — no one expects Trump to turn down an appearance before a massive national audience just days before the Iowa caucuses, and Fox is unlikely to bow to Trump and remove Kelly. Soon after Lewandowski's comments, another Trump staffer said she hadn't heard anything about a potential debate boycott.
Fox is downplaying Trump's bluster as well. "Megyn Kelly has no conflict of interest," said Fox News spokeswoman Irena Briganti has said. "Donald Trump is just trying to build up the audience for Thursday's debate, for which we thank him."
The Trump-Kelly feud famously started at another Fox-sponsored Republican debate in August, when Kelly pointedly asked Trump about his history of sexist comments.
“One of the things people love about you is that you speak your mind, don’t use a politician’s filter,” Kelly said. “But that has its downsides, in particular when it comes to women. You call women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.'”
“Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump quipped.
“No, it wasn’t,” Kelly replied. “It was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell. You once told a contestant on ‘The Celebrity Apprentice’ that it ‘would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.’ Does that sound to you like the temperament of someone we should elect as president,” and “how would you answer the question from Hillary Clinton…that you are part of the war on women?”
Trump replied that “the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people, I don’t have time for total political correctness.” He said “what I say is fun, it’s kidding, we have a good time.”
After the debate, Trump did little to assuage any voters that might have been concerned about the sexism allegations, retweeting supporters who called Kelly a "bimbo" and telling CNN's Don Lemon, "There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
Regardless of whether Trump actually follows through with the threat, his flare-up with Kelly marked the first thread in what has become persistent campaign narrative: Trump's allegedly sexist attitude towards women.
Trump again faced criticism after Rolling Stone reported Trump's comments about fellow GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina's looks in November. “Look at that face!” he said. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!”
Trump's recent attacks on Hillary Clinton drew more criticism. After saying that Clinton "got schlonged" in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, Trump defended the term as "not vulgar." He then lobbed accusations of sexism at Bill Clinton, and said that Hillary Clinton was an "enabler" of her husband's past infidelities.
Then there's this tweet from 2013, in which Trump seemed to blame the military's rape problem on cohabitation:
Kelly and Trump haven't had any direct confrontations since August, so if they both show up in Iowa for the debate on Thursday, Kelly will have plenty of additional fodder with which to press Trump on his attitudes towards women. Trump clearly still holds some personal animosity towards Kelly, which could result in some contentious exchanges.