Donald Trump’s method of commanding media attention is simple. The presidential candidate insults an unsuspecting victim — Sen. John McCain, former Gov. Rick Perry, the entire Mexican population — to provoke a reaction. He then refuses to apologize for whatever statement he has made, instead doubling down on his controversial opinions.
It’s a formula that’s repeatedly kept Trump in the media spotlight and atop the GOP primary field. Trump’s latest public opponent is Megyn Kelly, the Fox News anchor who moderated the first Republican primary debate on Aug. 6.
The feud began during the debate itself, in which Kelly was harsh and persistent in her criticisms of Trump. She asked him a question his treatment of women on TV and social media, accusing him of sexism and misogyny.
The heart of the question was actually an important one for a potential GOP candidate to answer: “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’s answer avoided that question entirely, instead going on a rant about political correctness and the country losing to China and Mexico.
He also used the opportunity to dismiss Kelly’s accusation that he’s called women he doesn’t like “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” His response to that was a joke: “Only Rosie O’Donnell.” Yet Trump did nothing to ensure voters that he’ll be a champion of women’s rights, instead choosing to insult the female moderator who had asked him the question.
Kelly accused Trump of using Twitter to spread misogynistic messages. Sure enough, Trump took to Twitter after the debate to attack the moderator. Then, during an appearance on CNN, Trump delivered one of his signature news-worthy quotables. “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her — wherever,” Trump said. Like many of Trump’s comments, that statement sparked a wave of backlash within the Republican Party. According to CNN, blogger Erick Erickson revoked Trump’s invitation to his annual RedState Gathering as a result of the controversy surrounding the statement.
If Trump is accusing Kelly of menstruating during the debate, that only confirms the accusations of sexism and misogyny. Keeping with the classic Trump formula, the candidate has refused to apologize. He claims that “wherever” was meant to refer to Kelly’s “nose and/or ears.” He dismissed his accusers as being “sick” in misconstruing the intent of his comments.
“I cherish women,” Trump said, according to CNN. “Who would say that? Do you think I’d make a statement like that? Only a sick person would even think about that.”
Taking things a step further, Trump has now claimed that Kelly should apologize to him instead of the other way around. “She should really be apologizing to me, you want to know the truth,” Trump said, reports Yahoo News. “And other candidates have said that.”
Kelly, meanwhile, has stood by her conduct during the debate. She defended her question about Trump’s sexist history. “My job is to go out there and ask probing questions that are hopefully smart and help the people learn something about this person and, in this context, their weaknesses,” Kelly said. “It was a fair question.”
The irony of this feud is that Trump is making misogynistic statements in response to questions about his misogyny, while simultaneously denying that he has a problem with women.
It doesn’t seem coincidental that he’d respond to a question about sexism by claiming Kelly had blood coming out of “wherever.” It’s even less of a coincidence that Trump’s latest comment is that Carly Fiorina gives him a “massive headache.”
Kelly and the rest of the media may be overreacting, but Trump could have chosen his words more carefully if he wanted to prove he’s not sexist. But Trump's approach is to do the opposite of what people expect. His method of captivating media attention by making incendiary remarks and then sticking by them has served him well thus far.
With statements like the one he made against Kelly, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be able to keep this up much longer. As Kelly pointed out during the debate, Trump’s comments about women could destroy him if he made it to the national debate stage against Clinton. Yet the polls consistently show Trump growing stronger with every controversy.
It’s unclear why the formula is working, but it’s working for Trump.