Tuesday night, Donald Trump announced that he would boycott Thursday’s Fox News Republican debate because of the involvement of anchor Megyn Kelly, who he believes has been unfair to him. Right afterward, Trump held a rally in a school gym in Marshalltown, Iowa. Departing from his usual format of delivering meandering, improvised speeches, he structured the event as an interview, with local radio host John Jacobsen serving as his interlocutor. The questions were almost comically sycophantic—the sorts of queries a broadcaster in a totalitarian state might pose to the Supreme Leader while his family is being held hostage by the secret police. Juxtaposed with Trump’s refusal to debate on Fox, the event was a telling statement of how the Putin-admiring Trump—who calls reporters “scum” and “such lying disgusting people,” though he has magnanimously said he won’t have them killed—views the role of the press.
Here are some of the questions (and statements of praise) Trump responded to:
• “Mr. Trump, they had to open up the balcony tonight, there was such an overflow crowd. This is my 11th cycle, and we’ve never seen crowds like this throughout Iowa.”
• “Mr. Trump, it’s said that by their fruits you will know them, and you have a marvelous family. … They’re just tremendous leaders of great character. Obviously that speaks a lot about the home they grew up in and their father. Tell us about the kids and what they’re doing in the business and how they’ve helped in the campaign.”
• “Talking with your current and former employees, they are very loyal to you. They have a great love for you. Talk about that relationship you have with your employees and how you feel about the little people as they’re trying to live the American dream.”
• “Mr. Trump, in the last debate—I’m an old debater, and I think you scored very strongly, particularly in the economics and trade portion of the debate.”
• “[T]he article in the Constitution about the executive branch says that the president shall be the chief executive officer of the United States. You are one of the candidates that can lay claim to having the best record and experience as an executive. How will that background and business savvy help you?”
• “Do you think that, kind of like the Gipper, you might be an ambassador of goodwill and rejuvenate the zeal among our young people for this beautiful free market enterprise system that we have here?”
• “On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, you wrote a beautiful op-ed piece in the Washington Examiner … it was an outstanding essay on why you believe the culture of life is so important. Do you care to share a general view of your stance there? It was an excellent essay.”
Finally, after noting that the daughter of Iowa-born John Wayne—a man known as the Duke—has endorsed Trump, Jacobsen concluded with this:
• “Do you think that Iowans are maybe going to win one for the Duke and adopt you as one of theirs come caucus day?”
During the administration of George W. Bush, a lot of us on the left thought of Fox News as an American Pravda. I’m not sure, however, that the network ever toadied to anyone quite like this. It’s hard not to feel a bit of schadenfreude as Trump explodes the institutions of the Republican Party, one after another. Yet it’s also clear that Trump intends to replace them with something worse. In the dystopia of a Trump presidency, we might think of the slogan “Fair and Balanced” and feel not contempt, but nostalgia.