Trump May Have Had Foreknowledge of GOP Debate Questions in 2015
At the first Republican presidential primary debate in Cleveland, Ohio in 2015, candidate Donald Trump was asked by former Fox News host Megyn Kelly if his sexist comments about women ran contrary to the temperament expected of a commander-in-chief.
“You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals,’” Megyn said to Trump. “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 President?”
Trump, unfazed and bolstered by dominance in the polls, quipped that “only Rosie O’Donnell” met those descriptions and later referred to the exchange as the “crazy Megyn Kelly question.”
Trump tweeted four days after the debate that former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was “a great guy” who “assures me that ‘Trump’ will be treated fairly” at the debate.
Roger Ailes just called. He is a great guy & assures me that “Trump” will be treated fairly on @FoxNews. His word is always good!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 10, 2015
Expanding on this, Mayer writes:
“A pair of Fox insiders and a source close to Trump believe that Ailes informed the Trump campaign about Kelly’s question. Two of those sources say that they know of the tipoff from a purported eyewitness. In addition, a former Trump campaign aide says that a Fox contact gave him advance notice of a different debate question, which asked the candidates whether they would support the Republican nominee, regardless of who won. The former aide says that the heads-up was passed on to Trump, who was the only candidate who said that he wouldn’t automatically support the Party’s nominee—a position that burnished his image as an outsider.”
Ailes died in 2017, making the rumors impossible to confirm with certainty. Additionally, Mayer noted that other aides close to the campaign had conflicting recollections of what went down.
“A former campaign aide is adamant that Trump was genuinely surprised and infuriated by Kelly’s question. A Fox spokesperson strongly denied the allegation and declined requests for interviews with employees involved in the debate.”
But subsequent social media posts by Trump later in the campaign suggest that there may have been ongoing collusion between his campaign and the top puppeteers at Fox News.
In October of 2015, Trump alluded to a “talk with Ailes” Kelly supposedly had following that first debate.
"@KelliHeathman1: Megan Kelly admitted Trump was leading by a lot!! That talk with Ailes must have worked… Time to get tough. TRUMP 2016"
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 3, 2015
Trump railed against Kelly again the following January for “bringing in Michael Moore to add credibility in her fight” with the billionaire. Trump tagged Ailes in this tweet.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 28, 2016
Trump also tweeted that Ailes “will be telling Kelly to stop” lobbing gotcha questions at the future nominee a day before a Republican debate in Washington, DC.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 20, 2016
Why would Ailes kowtow to Trump? Easy – ratings. Trump rocketed to the top of the GOP field shortly after announcing his White House bid in June 2015.
After the first debate, Fox News was inundated with calls and emails from viewers upset with Kelly over her tough questions.
“The showdown helped shape Trump’s image as shamelessly unsinkable,” Mayer writes. “It also kicked off a feud between Trump and Fox, in which Trump briefly boycotted the channel, hurting its ratings and forcing Ailes to grovel.”
Let us not forget that shortly before the 2016 general election, Trump whined about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton purportedly getting questions in advance of a debate with her primary opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
“Why didn’t Hillary Clinton announce that she was inappropriately given the debate questions – she secretly used them! Crooked Hillary.”
Why didn't Hillary Clinton announce that she was inappropriately given the debate questions – she secretly used them! Crooked Hillary.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 20, 2016
And the rabbit hole gets deeper still…