MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa -- Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump abruptly announced here Tuesday that he would not participate in Thursday’s scheduled debate, escalating his off-and-on feud with Fox News Channel and throwing the GOP campaign into turmoil....We don't know whether Trump's backers, or potential backers (the polls suggest that late-deciding voters are breaking toward him), will see this as an act of cowardice or toughness. To me it looks as if he just doesn't have the guts to face Kelly.
So far, Trump’s untraditional moves have only expanded his support, but his threatened boycott leaves him open to criticism that for all his tough talk he is ducking face-to-face confrontations with his opponents and scrutiny from the Fox moderators....
Trump long has objected to the participation of Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly as one of the three moderators, claiming she has treated him unfairly with both her questioning of him at last August’s debate and her commentary since then.
But as New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman notes, Trump's apparent cowardice seems to be matched by the cowardice of Roger Ailes:
Trump source says Trump isn't taking Ailes calls. Hannity just tried calling trump as an emissary. Trump only wants to deal with Murdoch now— Gabriel Sherman (@gabrielsherman) January 27, 2016
Wow -- is Ailes really dispatching high-level emissaries to beg Trump to reconsider?
This comes from a Trump source, so it may not be true. But if it is true, or close to the true, why is Ailes negotiating at all? Why isn't he just saying to Trump, "Fine, go fuck yourself"?
Sherman writes that Trump is exploiting tensions within Fox:
One clear sign of the gravity of tonight’s development is the sense of confusion that is swirling throughout Fox. The network is split between Kelly's allies like Brit Hume and conservative anchors that are furious that Kelly -- who graces the cover of Vanity Fair this month -- has become the face of the network. An anchor fumed that Kelly hosted Michael Moore on her program tonight and the lefty filmmaker defended her against Trump. “That would be like Rachel Maddow laughing along with Charles Koch as he trashed Hillary Clinton!" the anchor said.And, more important, Trump, according to Sherman, is acting on the understanding that he can threaten Ailes's alpha-dog status on the right:
For Ailes, the risks are less immediate, but potentially as consequential to maintaining his power. No matter how loudly GOP candidates complained about Fox’s loutish politics in private, none risked taking Ailes on in public for fear of losing access to this crucial constituency -- until Trump, that is. Even if Trump's boycott backfires, he's already achieved a historic victory: Exploding the myth that a Republican candidate can't openly challenge Fox.And, obviously, Trump may be turning large parts of Fox's audience against Fox, because of their newfound loyalty to Trump. Ailes seems to be thinking he can't risk that.
And Ailes hasn't been well:
... in recent months Murdoch has been attending news meetings at Fox in the wake of a health scare that forced Ailes to take an extended leave of absence. Succession planning at Fox is very much on Murdoch's agenda. If Ailes loses his grip on the Trump situation -- and right now it looks like he is -- Murdoch will have another reason to worry about the stability of his most valuable asset.Maybe this isn't about fear of Kelly. Trump might think he'll be able to extract some concession from Fox -- maybe something far short of Kelly's removal as a moderator -- after which he can declare victory. And maybe Fox is weak and fearful enough to let him do that. We'll see.
UPDATE: Trump polls his decision on Twitter and the results suggest that this may be backfiring.
UPDATE: On the other hand, judging from a new Gabriel Sherman report, Ailes is desperate and Fox is in chaos:
This morning, Joe Scarborough reported that Ailes called Trump's daughter Ivanka and wife, Melania, to get through to the GOP front-runner. But Trump is saying he'll only talk to Rupert Murdoch directly. In a further challenge to Ailes's power, Bill O'Reilly is scheduled to host Trump. Last night, Ailes directed Sean Hannity to cancel Trump's interview. O'Reilly's refusal to abide by a ban adds a new dynamic to the clash of egos. For O'Reilly, this is an opportunity to take back star power from Kelly. Sources say O'Reilly feels he made Kelly's career by promoting her on his show, and he's been furious that Kelly surpassed him in the ratings.I don't know how much real damage any of this does to Fox, but it's fun to watch these SOBs squirm.
UPDATE: Wow, I missed this:
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said Monday that he would rather "set himself on fire" than go on the debate stage because of Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly's bias.We all know that Scarborough is a Trump bootlicker, but he's not even pretending to be anything other than that anymore.
Scarborough bashed Kelly, framing her as a biased journalist the morning after Donald Trump announced he'd skip Thursday's GOP presidential debate out of protest to Kelly's inclusion as a moderator.
Scarborough's "Morning Joe" program played a series of Fox News clips showing Kelly criticizing Trump's decision to skip the debate hosted by Fox.
"That is just good, unbiased journalism. And if I were a candidate, I certainly would want that person asking me questions in a fair and balanced way," Scarborough deadpanned with sarcasm.
"As I've said before, I would rather set myself onfire in front of the Fox News studio than go on the debate stage with that."