After the weeks of hype and the queasy hopes of an anxious nation, it all became clear:
Megyn Kelly didn’t ask Donald Trump to headline her Fox special “Megyn Kelly Presents” so she could pin him down on foreign and domestic policy issues, or even confront him about the months-long troll attack he launched after she dared question him during the first Republican debate about his penchant for misogynistic language.
No, she invited him to costar in an hourlong infomercial for her new book.
But the admission — either that his favorite book is “All Quiet on the Western Front” or that apparently he watched Kelly’s show even as he urged others to boycott it — was nowhere near as shocking as the show’s final moments.
“In addition to ‘The Kelly File,’” she informed audiences with conscious self-consciousness, “I’ve been working on a project, a book I’m unveiling right now.” Out of respect to actual television journalists, I will not name it, but apparently it is a chronicle of her rise from “unhappy lawyer” to her presumably very happy current self “with some tears and laughs along the way. And yes,” she adds, “for the first time I will speak openly about my year with Donald Trump.”
Wait, what? So why did we watch “Megyn Kelly Presents”?
To see Trump announce that if he loses, his campaign will have been, in his mind, an utter waste of time and money?
We watched because we wanted to see Kelly, tempered by the Trump’s bitter attack and buoyed by near-national support, hold his question-dodging feet to some sort of fire.
Instead, we got a rehash of all that Kelly endured followed by a battle of the low-talkers in which Kelly, clearly prepped to avoid anything that might smack of hostility, searched for the source of Trump’s rage while she gently suggested that perhaps presidents should not be so mean, and Trump tried to appear as if he were answering her questions when indeed he was not.
‘Bimbo?’ ‘Uh, well, that was a retweet. Did I say that? ... OK, excuse me.’
Opening with the softest ball imaginable — When did it occur to you that you could be president? — Kelly initially pursued a theme of regret: Did Trump feel he had made any mistakes in the campaign? How did the death of his brother affect him? Had he learned anything from his divorces? Then she took things to a near-psychoanalytic place: Has Trump ever been wounded, or bullied?
It’s clear where she was going, and she got there, sort of. How can parents be expected to teach their children not to bully when the Republican nominee engages in bullying behavior?
All of which sounds tougher than it played. Trump answered in predictable fashion — he regrets nothing; regretting is not healthy; his brother is the reason he never drinks; he has never been wounded; he only attacks when attacked, and people who are being bullied need to fight back or get over it — and Kelly nodded and moved on.
While she repeatedly made veiled references to Trump’s very real and unacceptable attempt to derail her career (“You can be bullied when you’re 45”), she did it with a smile or a laugh, before asking another question in an even gentler tone.
Until, it must be said, the end. After making a big joke about Trump’s tweeting habits — “I’m picturing a crushed velvet smoking jacket” — she did move him to where she wanted him.
“When you and I were having our little difficulty,” he said, “you probably had some pretty nasty tweets sent your way…. I don’t want that to happen but my fans …we have an unbelievable bond.”
“But you retweet some of those,” she said.
“Not the more nasty ones,” he answered. “You would be amazed at the ones I don’t retweet.”
“Uh, well, that was a retweet. Did I say that?
“Oooh. OK, excuse me,” he answered sheepishly, creating the interview’s one
uncomfortable moment, which, even as Kelly generously moved on to the next question, he proceeded to make worse. “Not the most horrible thing…. Over your life, you’ve been called a lot worse, wouldn’t you say?”
“It’s not about me,” Kelly said, finally steely. “It’s about the messaging to young girls and other women … you gonna stop that as president?”
“Well, I’m gonna stop that about you now,” he answered, and Kelly obligingly turned the conversation lighter, joking that he now had her cellphone number.
The second part of the interview, coming at the end of the hour, was just the two of them having fun, talking movies and books, a perfect preface to Kelly’s final announcement, and, presumably, the reason for the whole bloody exercise.
Which, in its own twisted way, is a feat of poetic justice. After suffering a Twitter smear campaign for simply doing her job, Kelly is certainly owed something.
And while Trump does not understand the notion or importance of a free press, he obviously knows a good marketing move when he sees it.
On Twitter: @marymacTV