Kelly did not question Republican frontrunner Trump until more than half an hour into the debate, as her fellow moderators handled most of the initial questioning of the four candidates on stage in Detroit. When she did get her first shot at Trump, she greeted him with a smile, opening a warm and fuzzy exchange.
“How ya doing?” Kelly said, in her first debate-stage facedown with Trump in six months. “Nice to be with you, Megyn,” Trump responded. Kelly: “Great to have you here.” Trump: “You are looking well.” Kelly: “As are you.”
The Fox News anchor then asked Trump a question about immigration that put him on the spot but was much less confrontational than a question she posed him six months ago, which led to a protracted feud. Trump conceded he may have shown flexibility on his pledge to deport all 11 million immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. She followed up, asking Trump, “How flexible are you?” on the deportation point. “Not very flexible,” Trump responded.
Thus fizzled what was supposed to be one of the big showdowns of Thursday night’s debate. A few minutes later, Kelly pressed Trump again, asking him about his change in support for visas that would allow high-skilled workers into the U.S. Trump conceded he had changed his position, but never came close to raising his voice to the Fox moderator.
Not that Kelly’s question to Trump was a softball. The revelation by Buzz Feed that Trump told the New York Times he might be willing to negotiate on his immigrant deportation plan has caused a backlash from some critics, who say the candidate has been two-faced on the issue. After Kelly’s question, Trump faced repeated demands from other candidates that he release a tape of his private conversation with the New York Times.
Later, Kelly came back at Trump with another tough question: asking him to explain the multiple occasions on which he has changed his position on issues. “You have changed your position on so many things, it has people asking: What is his core?” Kelly said. Trump, remaining a much more even temper than he did in August, assured Kelly: “I have a very strong core.” He then added that he had to show flexibility on issues, because leaders needed to adapt to changing circumstances and new information.
Still, it was was a pale reflection of the pyrotechnics of August, when Trump reacted angrily after Kelly cited his coarse comments about women and wondered if he had the “temperament” to be president.
That set off a weeks-long furor. Trump sat out one debate when Fox would not remove Kelly as a moderator, vowed he would boycott all of the cable giant’s programs (a pledge he reversed the following month) and called Kelly a “third-rate reporter,” who had anger issues. She said she was only doing her job and rejected Trump’s demand that she apologize.
At the height of Trump’s smackdown (Kelly had noted that he previously had called women “pigs,” “dogs” and “slobs”) the former reality show star said that when he looked at Kelly during the debate “you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.” That was widely interpreted as being a crude reference to her menstrual cycle, though Trump later denied it.
The rising Fox star said in a more recent interview that she never took the war of words from Trump personally, adding, “I certainly don’t have anything against him.” After his multiple victories in several states this week on Super Tuesday, Kelly told Fox viewers she thought that Trump had struck “a reasonable tone,” toned down his bombast and was “sounding presidential, which sort of will help some of his detractors see him in a different light perhaps.”