Four years ago, Donald Trump was scheduled to moderate a Republican debate in Iowa, but just two candidates agreed to participate in the Newsmax-hosted event because the then “Celebrity Apprentice” host would not rule out an independent run.
“We’re not seeing a lot of courage here,” Trump told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly in a 2011 interview. “These Republicans, they’re supposed to be brave.”
Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum agreed to take part in the late-December debate, which was scheduled to be broadcast live from Des Moines on the ION Television network.
But the rest of the field, including Mitt Romney, declined.
“The selection of a reality television personality to host a presidential debate that voters nationwide will be watching is beneath the office of the presidency,” Ron Paul’s campaign said in a statement, “and flies in the face of that office’s history and dignity.”
Trump subsequently bowed out as moderator, and the event was ultimately canceled.
“I believe this would not only have been the most watched debate but also the most substantive and interesting debate,” Trump said in a statement thanking Gingrich and Santorum for “having the courage, conviction, and confidence” to agree to participate.
Trump’s decision to boycott Thursday’s Republican debate over his ongoing feud with Kelly and Fox News is sending shock waves throughout the 2016 GOP race. The Republican frontrunner had threatened to skip the event if Fox News chairman Roger Ailes did not remove Kelly as moderator.
“Megyn Kelly is a lightweight,” Trump said at a press conference in Iowa Tuesday. “Megyn Kelly shouldn’t be at the debate.”
But in their 2011 interview, Trump heaped praise on Kelly’s moderating skills.
“I could never beat you. That wouldn’t even be close. That would be no contest,” Trump said. “You have done a great job, by the way. And I mean it.”
While announcing his decision to skip Thursday’s debate, Trump reiterated his complaints that Kelly is “biased” — a charge he said was proved at the first Republican debate in August, when she called him out for his history of misogynistic comments.
“You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,” Kelly said. “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 as president?”
“Honestly, Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry,” Trump replied. “I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be based on the way you’ve treated me.”
Kelly addressed the controversy on Tuesday’s “Kelly File.”
“In the months since, Mr. Trump has repeatedly brought up that exchange as evidence of alleged bias on my part,” she said. “I maintain it was a tough but fair question and we agreed to disagree.”
Her comments came hours after the cable network released a statement mocking Trump and backing Kelly.
“Megyn Kelly is an excellent journalist, and the entire network stands behind her,” Ailes said in a statement. “She will absolutely be on the debate stage Thursday night.”
“Trump is not used to not controlling things,” Kelly added. “But the truth is, he doesn’t get to control the media.”
In a 2011 interview with Megyn Kelly, Donald Trump scolded Republican candidates for skipping his event — and heaped praise on her moderating skills. (Fox News)