Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Wednesday night lashed out at Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly in his first appearance on the network since he announced he’d boycott the next GOP debate.
He also refused to reconsider his decision to sit out the network’s Thursday night debate – the last before the Iowa caucuses in five days – and said he’d move forward with his own competing event to raise money for wounded veterans.
Speaking on “The O’Reilly Factor,” Trump continued his long-running feud with Kelly, who he has been criticizing ever since she challenged him on his past derogatory remarks about women at the first GOP debate in August.
“I have zero respect for Megyn Kelly,” Trump said. “I don’t think she’s good at what she does and I think she’s highly overrated. And frankly, she’s a moderator; I thought her question last time was ridiculous.”
Kelly is also set to moderate Thursday night’s debate on Fox News.
Trump is instead holding a rally in Des Moines at the same time as the Republican debate that he says will raise money for wounded veterans.
In the contentious interview with O’Reilly, Trump rebuffed the anchor’s attempts to convince him that he’s making a grave error by skipping the debate.
“I believe personally that you want to improve the country,” O’Reilly said. “By doing this, you miss the opportunity to convince others … that is true.
“You have in this debate format the upper hand — you have sixty seconds off the top to tell the moderator, ‘You’re a pinhead, you’re off the mark and here’s what I want to say’. By walking away from it, you lose the opportunity to persuade people you are a strong leader.”
But O’Reilly’s pitch fell flat with Trump. The GOP front-runner dug in his heels, insisting he intended to retaliate against the network by depriving them of ratings.
“Fox was going to make a fortune off this debate,” Trump said. “Now they’re going to make much less.”
O’Reilly said he was merely trying to convince Trump that his approach “is wrong because it’s better for people to see you in the debate format.”
He gave the example from 2012, when former Speaker Newt Gingrich was asked an embarrassing question by a CNN debate moderator at a South Carolina debate about allegations he had an open marriage.
Gingrich shut the moderator down and went on to win South Carolina, O’Reilly noted.
“That’s the kind of guy you are,” O’Reilly said. “You stick it to them and let them have it.”
Responded Trump: “Newt is a friend of mine and I thought it was an unfair question. But equally unfair was the question Megyn Kelly asked me.”
O’Reilly then sought to appeal to Trump’s capacity to forgive, reminding the billionaire businessman that he’s a Christian, even if he doesn’t attend church all that often, and that the Bible says to “turn the other cheek.”
Trump shot back, saying he’s a regular church-goer, and that the Bible also says “an eye for an eye.”
“You could look at it that way too,” Trump said.
O’Reilly accused Trump of being “petty,” and said he was allowing things that are out of his control to have outsized influence over his decision-making process.
“I don’t like being taken advantage of,” Trump said. “In this case I was being taken advantage of by Fox. I don’t like that. Now when I’m representing the country, if I win, I’m not going to let our country be taken advantage of. … It’s a personality trait but I don’t think it’s a bad personality trait.”
O’Reilly ended the interview asking Trump to just at least consider showing up Thursday night. Trump said the two had agreed beforehand that O’Reilly not ask that question.
“I told you up front don’t ask me that question because it’s an embarrassing question for you and I don’t want to embarrass you,” he said.