Donald Trump: America’s Putin?

by Heather Robinson

By now most of America has seen or heard about Donald Trump’s theatrics in the first Republican debate Thursday night, from his refusal to pledge he won’t run as an Independent to his Rosie O’Donnell crack in response to moderator Megyn Kelly’s tough question about his past remarks about women.

My feelings about Trump are very mixed; he is multi-faceted, and his rough-around-the-edges personality looks different when examined in different lights. On the one hand, like many Americans, I respect what appear to be his honesty and directness, and tend to link these qualities with integrity and strength.

Yet while Trump is something of a master at confronting others and calling them out on their evasions and weaknesses, he seems surprisingly thin-skinned himself, which is often the mark of a bully. After Megyn Kelly asked him a tough question near the outset of the debate, he displayed bad temper and betrayed, at least to me, a failure to understand her role as a political journalist and moderator.

Here’s the exchange:

KELLY: Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter. However, that is not without its downsides, in particular, when it comes to women.

You’ve called women you don’t like “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.”


Your Twitter account…

TRUMP: Only Rosie O’Donnell.


KELLY: No, it wasn’t.


Your Twitter account…


TRUMP: Thank you.

KELLY: For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell.

TRUMP: Yes, I’m sure it was.

KELLY: Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. 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, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?

TRUMP: I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.


I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody.

And frankly, what I say, and oftentimes it’s fun, it’s kidding. We have a good time. What I say is what I say. And honestly Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn’t do that.

After the debate Trump reportedly forwarded a Tweet about Kelly that referred to her as a “bimbo.” (So much for “I wouldn’t do that.”) And this evening he went into full attack mode against her.

Kelly maintained her toughness and her cool throughout the exchange, even though Trump seemed to be trying to turn it into a personal scrap. Is it possible she wasn’t insulted at all and may have baited him to test not just his factual, but his emotional, response? Fair enough, given that the man is running for the highest office in the world. Bottom line: she was just doing her job, which is not to bend over backward to be “nice” to the candidates but to ask tough questions. She did not hurl unfounded accusations but quoted his own past words back to him. While there’s no reason for gratuitous insults, the role of a good reporter is to be a watchdog, not a lapdog.

Am I alone in feeling Trump’s reply betrayed what seems like a lack of understanding of the role of the press? It seemed as if he viewed Kelly as there to serve him, rather than to challenge him. Disturbing.

This evening Trump continued his attacks on Kelly, saying, “”She gets out and she starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions. You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever. In my opinion, she was off base.”

He also called Kelly a “lightweight” and said, “I just don’t respect her as a journalist. I have no respect for her. I don’t think she’s very good. I think she’s highly overrated.”

Of course, he’s entitled to his opinion. And what Trump thinks of Kelly personally is not the issue. What is disturbing to me is he seems to not understand that, whatever he may think of her questions, her role is not to make him comfortable; if anything, it is the opposite. While she and the other FOX moderators are “hosting” the debate, they are not hosting in the sense of, say, hosting a charity function at which he is the honored speaker. They are there to prompt and prod the candidates, to get information out of them and, if they are doing their job, to serve the viewing public. Seems to me that Trump of all people should appreciate that FOX News is the number one cable news channel – and it’s because they are among the only muscular news sources still alive in this country. These moderators are working for We the People, not for Mr. Trump.

Trump’s seeming lack of respect for pugnacious political journalism when it’s directed his way makes me wonder if he’s auditioning to become America’s Putin.

At a time when journalists and bloggers are literally under fire across the world for asking questions that powerful people do not want asked, after viewing the debate, for the first time, I (who heretofore really liked Trump) understand what some people mean when they describe the possibility of Trump in the White House as frightening.

More to come.