The 10 Republican candidates vying for the 2016 presidency took the stage in Cleveland, Ohio, on Thursday night for the all-important first debate. Out of the group, Donald Trump unsurprisingly emerged as the most quotable. But he and his fellow party members were all upstaged by someone who was asking the questions, not answering them: Fox News powerhouse Megyn Kelly, The Guardian reports.
The host of The Kelly File, currently the second most-watched program in all of cable news, behind only Fox’s own The O’Reilly Factor, made headlines during and following the GOP debate for her tough line of questioning. Famously, such an approach led to her asking Trump about his many verbal attacks on women.
“You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,” Kelly began. Her remarks caused Trump to clarify: “Only Rosie O’Donnell”. She later questioned Trump’s party affiliation, asking: “When did you actually become a Republican?” Trump wasn’t the only candidate taken to task. Kelly also questioned Scott Walker’s stance on abortion, asking: “Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion?”
Her tactics attracted a lot of supporters, but Trump was not among them. The real-estate tycoon went on a Twitter rampage early on Friday morning, in which he called her, among other things, “the biggest loser in the debate”. Later in the day, he compounded the issue. In an interview with CNN, Trump complained of Kelly’s approach in the debate, saying she had “had blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever” while questioning him.
The remark cost Trump a scheduled appearance at an influential conservative event, Red State Gathering, in Atlanta, and led some observers to question whether in attacking Kelly in so vulgar a fashion he had finally torpedoed his hitherto insurgent campaign. Trump’s anger, meanwhile, has only boosted the anchor’s profile – not that she was in need of attention. As Joe Muto – the former Fox News “mole” for Gawker, who wrote a book about his experience working for the channel as a liberal – stressed to the Guardian, Kelly’s performance should not have surprised anyone.
Kelly is a self-professed independent voter, known for frequently throwing hardballs at Republicans. “I’m a Fox News anchor, and I have no horse in the race,” she told Variety in June. “I can give anyone a hard time.” She once lectured Kentucky senator and 2016 candidate Rand Paul over his penchant for arguing with female reporters, and memorably asked another White House hopeful, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, to clarify why he thought it was trashy for women to swear in public.
“I don’t understand these politicians who want to be president, and complain when they get a tough interview,” Kelly told Variety. “If you behave like a stupid moron, you’re going to get called out by me.” Kelly is unlike any news anchor working for Fox News, and she may very well represent the network’s future. The 44-year-old married mother of three young children hails from Syracuse in upstate New York. Her father was a college professor and died she when was 15; her mother returned to nursing shortly following his death to support her family.
Before going into news, Kelly taught aerobics. She told GQ that she recorded a workout tape during that period in her life. “I was paid one dollar to be Backup Girl #1,” she said. She moved on to become a corporate litigator, something she pursued for a decade – but she hated it. “The problem with the law is that it’s always there,” she told GQ. “There wasn’t a vacation I took over the nine years I practiced.”
Kelly had always been captivated by the idea of doing TV news – she told GQ: “I thought the profession had some nobility in it, but it’s also one in which you have to get your hands dirty” – so she began working on weekends at ABC affiliate WJLA-TV in Washington, before she applied for a job at Fox News.
After being a staple at the network for a decade, Fox News president Roger Ailes gambled by letting her headline her own primetime nightly show – The Kelly File – in 2013. According to Variety, her hour easily draws more viewers than Anderson Cooper and Rachel Maddow’s programs, the top-rated primetime shows on CNN and MSNBC, combined.
“Megyn Kelly is the new face of Fox News,” said Variety senior editor Ramin Setoodeh, who profiled her for a cover story in June. “She’s bringing a new energy to Fox because she doesn’t always follow party lines. She’s not afraid to push buttons and be the provocative journalist she should be.” Muto agreed: “Compared to the people she’s sandwiched between on Fox – O’Reilly and Sean Hannity – she looks like a middle of the road person. O’Reilly is not getting any younger; Hannity’s appeal is very limited. Megyn Kelly is the future of Fox News – she appeals to people who aren’t conservative ideologues.”
Whether Kelly stays at Fox News once her contract expires, reportedly in 2017, is anyone’s guess. Variety reports that she turned down an offer from Jeff Zucker to join CNN for her own primetime gig two years ago, and Setoodeh says she has been courted by ABC and NBC. Ailes is grooming her to be Fox’s answer to Barbara Walters. Following an exclusive interview with the scandal-hit, reality TV star Duggars family that drew in 3.1 million viewers in June, Kelly is getting a series of primetime specials, starting next year and concerning important news subjects, celebrities and sports figures.
One of the top people she hopes to interview, says Setoodeh, is the leading Democratic candidate for 2016, Hillary Clinton. As Kelly told Variety: “I’m not a political person.”