Donald Trump’s attacks on Megyn Kelly garner pushback from Republicans

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump fields a question during the debate held Thursday in Cleveland. His comments about moderator Megyn Kelly, right, have caused controversy.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump fields a question during the debate held Thursday in Cleveland. His comments about moderator Megyn Kelly, right, have caused controversy.

(Scott Olson / Getty Images)

For weeks, many Republicans have grudgingly tolerated Donald Trump as he steamrolled through the early stages of the presidential race. Others, including some of his rivals for the nomination, publicly said they welcomed his no-holds-barred approach to a political system they felt needed a jolt.

But since Thursday night’s debate, Trump’s hostile reaction to questions about his treatment of women appears to have increased the number of factions within the Republican Party with interest in seeing him leave his run for president behind.

A prominent conservative and other candidates seeking the GOP nomination piled on Saturday, calling for Trump, who has been leading in polls, to disavow his attacks on popular Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.

“Give me a break. Do we want to win? Do we want to insult 53% of all voters?” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said.

At the prime-time debate, which attracted a record audience of 24 million viewers, Kelly pressed Trump on his comments over the years calling women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.” Trump tried to defuse the question with a joke, but when challenged further, he said he would not tolerate political correctness and complained to Kelly about “the way you have treated me.”


Then, in an interview Friday with CNN, he said of Kelly: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever. In my opinion, she was off base.” His insinuation was widely interpreted to mean that Kelly was menstruating, though in a bellicose statement Saturday, Trump’s campaign insisted that by “wherever,” he meant her nose.

“Only a deviant would think anything else,” the statement continued.

It was partly a reaction after Erick Erickson, the founder of a major right-wing blog and a Fox News contributor, publicly disinvited Trump to his prominent event for conservatives in Atlanta this weekend. Trump had been announced as the event’s surprise featured guest, but on Saturday, Erickson told the RedState Gathering that Trump’s refusal to explain his attacks on Kelly had cost him any further benefit of the doubt.

“I know he taps into some anger that even I share with the Republican Party. And a lot of us here do too,” he said. “But if our standard-bearer has to resort to that, we need a new standard-bearer.”

Trump responded in his statement by calling Erickson “a total loser,” one of the billionaire businessman’s preferred insults.

There was also dissension within Trump’s campaign. After Trump told the Washington Post he had fired a senior advisor, Roger Stone, Stone said on Twitter that he had actually quit, seeing the fight with Kelly as taking away from Trump’s message.

But it was too soon to say how the fallout from the debate would affect Trump’s standing with voters.

Since Trump announced his run for president in June, he has made a series of inflammatory remarks that have bruised his own business empire but enhanced his standing in the crowded Republican field. At his campaign kickoff event, he labeled many Mexican immigrants in the country illegally as “rapists,” which prompted his corporate partners to move quickly to sever ties. Predictions that Trump’s candidacy was doomed after criticism of GOP Sen. John McCain’s war record never came true.

Rival candidates who once stood by, apparently with an eye toward eventually being able to court Trump’s supporters should he drop out of the race, now seem impatient about allowing Trump to continue to set the pace in the campaign.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who addressed the RedState Gathering on Saturday morning, grew frustrated when reporters peppered him afterward with questions about Trump.

“I’m running for president, not to evaluate one of the other 16 people, or 323 people, running for president,” he said. “There’s plenty of people who can talk about Donald Trump. I’m the only person who can talk about what Mike Huckabee is doing running for president.”

Others saw political opportunity. Bush was the only candidate at RedState to rebuke Trump from the main stage, positing that if Trump thought Kelly’s questions were tough, “how about dealing with Putin?” referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the GOP field, tweeted that she stood with Kelly. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said that even though he believes Kelly is a tough interviewer, being president “is tougher.” In a tweet, he said, “GOP candidates & media need to get back to how we’re going to turn US around.”

Perhaps more than any GOP hopeful, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has sought to appeal to voters who have been drawn to Trump’s style. In a rousing speech at the RedState Gathering on Saturday in which he never mentioned Trump, he noted he had also been accused of employing over-the-top rhetoric but said, “Truth is not rhetoric.” But he later told reporters he was focused on policy, not the “politics of personality.”

When Erickson explained his decision Friday to rescind Trump’s invitation, many of the hundreds in the audience — but not all — applauded. During a break between speakers later in the afternoon, he read outraged and explicit tweets he’d received from Trump supporters.

Some of those who attended the event, though, backed Erickson. Anne Eldridge of Vinings, Ga., called Trump “totally out of line.”

“I thought he added something and that he brought up things that the other candidates had not been coming on strong about,” Eldridge said of Trump. But when asked whether he had now served his purpose, she said he had “overserved it, yes.”

“Mr. Trump should return to his private business,” she said.


Twitter: @mikememoli