Megyn Kelly Has Defeated Donald Trump

In pulling out of Thursday’s Fox News debate because of the presence of Megyn Kelly as a moderator, Donald Trump has vaulted the Fox News anchor to the front ranks of TV news personalities. Kelly led off her Fox show, The Kelly File, on Tuesday night with the news of Trump’s self-imposed exit, saying that Trump “doesn’t get to control the media.”

Trump’s startling wimp-out is a gift to Kelly, who reasserted her claim that she asks “tough but fair” questions. In a brief video posted on Instagram on Tuesday, Trump said, “Megyn Kelly is really biased against me. She knows that. I know that. Everybody knows that. Do you really think she can be fair at a debate?”

On Monday, he’d said to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “Who ever even heard of her before the last debate?” He was referring to Kelly’s question to Trump during last August’s Fox News debate, in which Kelly asked Trump about some sexist, misogynist remarks he has made about women.

See Megyn Kelly’s response here:

For a media-savvy guy like Trump, this is an impressively dumb move. Kelly has both huge ratings and has been the subject of much coverage as a personality. She recently accrued her latest extraordinarily fawning profile in Vanity Fair — she’s the Fox News host every print media outlet wants to praise, with pictures!

To suggest that most people don’t know her is to be ignorant of the very pop culture world in which Trump swims like a shark. Trump’s absence from Thursday’s debate will make it even more of a must-watch event, because it will be the first time Ted Cruz and the rest of the field will be able to attack Trump without the man himself there to round on them in his wildly unpredictable manner, a style that has dominated every television appearance he’s made. Depriving himself of TV time is a critical, self-inflicted blow.

Related: The Democratic Candidates Face Iowa Citizens’ Skepticism

Fox News issued a jokey response to Trump’s whine: “We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president — a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.” Trump can pretty much be assured he won’t have Fox News president Roger Ailes in his corner anymore — look for less Trump on Fox.

As for Kelly, she has won a victory without having to throw a punch. She instantly comes off as more of a hard-hitting journalist than she was before, simply by allowing Trump to accuse her of “bias,” because every TV-watcher knows that anyone who uses that term knows what it’s code for: Oooh, she asks questions that I don’t like, that I have trouble answering.

“I might be the best thing that ever happened to her,” Trump said of Kelly on Monday. By pulling out of the debate on Tuesday, Trump proved himself super-correct — just not in the way he intended. He transformed his own insult into a compliment to Kelly’s ever-growing popularity.

The Republican debate airs Thursday, Jan. 28 at 9 p.m. ET on Fox News.