Tuesday night, Megyn Kelly will sit down for a one-hour conversation with the man who has called her “crazy,” “sick,” “overrated,” and a “lightweight” journalist—we’re speaking, of course, about Donald Trump. For the Fox News anchor, arranging a détente with the candidate who has spent nearly a year trolling her on Twitter and insulting her in other outlets is a canny way to ensure a blockbuster kick-off for her new series of long-form interviews, “Megyn Kelly Presents.” (She’ll also be talking to Michael Douglas and Laverne Cox, among others, in the upcoming installments of her special, modeled on Barbara Walters’ classic “Most Fascinating People” series.) For voters, the interview is a chance to see if Trump can rein in his sexist vitriol in a moment that seems staged to test just that.
But wait. How did these two get here? Trump’s attacks on Kelly have punctuated a presidential campaign of unprecedented histrionics—understandably, many of us have lost track of the various twists and turns in the hubbub of the Donald’s many other feuds. So that we can all enjoy every bit of awkward subtext in an interview that Kelly has predicted will leave people “feeling a little uncomfortable,” here’s a play-by-play of the long-running beef.
At the first Republican debate, on August 6 in Cleveland, Ohio, Kelly—presciently—asked Trump to comment on his history of publically, gleefully insulting women, and the role that that might play in the race:
You’ve called women you don’t like “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals. … Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice 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?
At the time, Trump kept the menace in his answer implied. “Frankly, what I say, and oftentimes it’s fun, it’s kidding,” he said, in part. “And honestly 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.”
Never known as a man of his word, Trump went home and did exactly that on Twitter.
The day after the debate, Trump told a CNN interviewer that Kelly had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever” during the debate. Most listeners assumed that a woman’s bleeding “wherever” could refer to only one place. (Trump later claimed he was referring to Kelly’s nose, which looked just fine in video footage of the debate.) Trump also called Kelly a “lightweight.” “I just don’t respect her as a journalist,” he said. “I have no respect for her. I don’t think she’s very good. I think she’s highly overrated.”
Kelly went on Charlie Rose. When asked about her issues with Trump, she portrayed them as solidly in the past. Fox never “wanted any sort of a war with Donald Trump,” she said. “We didn’t think that benefited the channel, we didn’t think it benefited me, and we don’t think it benefited Donald Trump. And I think Donald Trump would say that now.”
In the run-up to the second Republican debate to air on Fox News (which took place in Des Moines, Iowa, on January 28 and was the final GOP debate held before the all-important Iowa Caucuses), Trump pressured the network to exclude Kelly from its trio of moderators, claiming she had demonstrated a “conflict of interest.” When Fox refused, Trump announced that he would boycott the debate.
Fox’s statement in response revealed that the Trump camp had laced its demands with threats, which campaign manager Corey Lewandowski had made to Kelly. “In a call on Saturday with a FOX News executive, Lewandowski stated that Megyn had a ‘rough couple of days after that last debate’ and he ‘would hate to have her go through that again,’” the network said. “We can’t give in to terrorizations toward any of our employees.”
The morning before the debate, Trump retweeted a meme that his followers had created using photos of Kelly posing in a black slip for GQ, along with the line, “And this is the bimbo that’s asking presidential questions?” Trump also refused to take responsibility for the tweet’s offensive word choice. “That’s a retweet. That’s different. That’s different,” he told CNN.
In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Kelly commented on the “bizarre” experience of being one of Trump’s prime targets.
“It was bizarre because I became the story,” she said. “He was so very focused on me that I became the story and, you know, you never want to be the story when you’re a news person. … You want to be covering the story. So it was like an Alice-through-the-looking-glass experience.”
In March, Fox was forced to cancel a debate—scheduled to be moderated by Kelly in Salt Lake City, Utah—after both Trump and John Kasich cancelled. Trump once again stepped up his assault on Kelly on Twitter. After he called her “sick” and “overrated,” the network finally released the pointed defense of its anchor that critics had been calling for since the previous fall.
“Donald Trump’s vitriolic attacks against Megyn Kelly and his extreme, sick obsession with her is beneath the dignity of a presidential candidate who wants to occupy the highest office in the land,” the statement said. “Megyn is an exemplary journalist and one of the leading anchors in America—we’re extremely proud of her phenomenal work and continue to fully support her throughout every day of Trump’s endless barrage of crude and sexist verbal assaults.”
Kelly has long known that she wanted to spin her ugly experience with Trump into good TV—and ratings gold. “I had been looking for months for just the right window to go in there” and ask Trump for an interview, she said this week. “But every time I thought I was there, he’d start up again, whether it was boycotting the second Fox News debate or calling me crazy and sick after the third debate. … In April there was a lull in the tweet storm, and I seized on the opportunity.” Kelly has said that she arranged a sit-down with Trump herself, without clueing in her network to her plans. She pitched Trump a Barbara Walters-style interview, and he agreed.
What’s next for Trump and one of his fiercest interlocutors within his own party? Promo footage of the interview shows Kelly broaching the topic of the feud with the dramatic line, “Let’s talk about us.” Trump has told People Magazine that he has new respect for Kelly as a result of their sit-down—but he also told Kelly that he couldn’t guarantee his days of attacking her were done. “This could happen again with us—even doing this particular interview,” he says in an available clip of Tuesday night’s show.
That may be the most honest thing Trump has said yet about Kelly in this long and fractious campaign.