Donald Trump on Monday brushed aside the latest round of outrage over his controversial comments, refusing to apologize and saying it was the fault of listeners if they misunderstood his complaints about Fox News host Megyn Kelly.
Pundits and press outlets have mounted yet another a campaign death watch for Mr. Trump — the second in two months — but the latest polling suggests he is still the man to beat in the crowded Republican presidential field, and he shows no signs of tiring of the campaign grind.
Instead, the billionaire businessman is mixing it up on Twitter, defending, attacking and shifting fields as he tries to protect his image and double-digit lead over his next-closest competitor in the latest national Republican polling and his front-runner status in Iowa in a Public Policy Polling survey.
Continuing a pattern of attacking when he is attacked, Mr. Trump said far from him apologizing to Fox News host Megyn Kelly, it is she who should be sorry for asking him during last week’s inaugural Republican presidential debate about some of his past disparaging remarks about women.
“The fact is she asked me a very inappropriate question. She should really be apologizing to me, you want to know the truth,” Mr. Trump said via phone Monday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “And other candidates have said that.”
Ms. Kelly responded Monday night on “The Kelly File”: “I certainly will not apologize for doing good journalism, so I’ll continue doing my job without fear or favor.”
Mr. Trump also defended his own comment a day after the debate criticizing Ms. Kelly, when he said “you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” Mr. Trump said that wasn’t a reference to menstruation, as many commentators took it to be, and told NBC’s “Today” program via phone that his next word would have been “nose” or “ears.”
Coming on the heels of his campaign kickoff flap over accusing Mexico of sending rapists to the U.S. and his follow-up dispute with Sen. John McCain over whether the former Republican presidential nominee’s years spent in a Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp were heroic, some analysts wondered whether Mr. Trump was poised for a plummet.
“Is the Trump balloon about to burst?” wondered Julian Zelizer, a CNN.com columnist and public affairs professor at Princeton University. National Journal headlined its morning tip sheet questioning, “The end of Trump?”
Post-debate polls, though, showed no signs of slackening support. Mr. Trump maintained a 10-point lead in the national NBC poll over Sen. Ted Cruz, his closest competitor, while in Iowa his 19 percent support was still tops, with retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tied for second at 12 percent, according to the Public Policy Polling survey.
“If you loved Trump before the debate, why in the hell would anything he did during the debate make you think, ‘Oh, that’s not the guy I want to support’? It’s so ridiculous,” said one Republican campaign adviser. “If you loved him before, you probably loved his debate performance.”
The electability question
David Yepsen, a former political correspondent for The Des Moines Register and now director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Center at Southern Illinois University, said Mr. Trump “won’t wear very well with a lot of Republicans in Iowa,” which kicks off the nomination battle with its caucuses early next year.
“He’s a celebrity, he’s entertaining and he gives voice to a lot of the anger Americans feel toward politics right now, but when it comes to caucus night, most of the activists who show up are looking to pick a presidential candidate, not make a statement,” Mr. Yepsen said. “They’re looking for someone who they think is qualified for the office, whom they agree with on most issues and who they see as electable.”
Mr. Yepsen said he expects Mr. Trump to draw big crowds but doubted it would translate into a big vote when the caucuses and primaries get underway.
Roger Stone, who was a top Trump adviser until this weekend, said he quit because his former boss was going the wrong direction in getting enmeshed in fights with the press.
“I left because I was having no impact, because the issues and the vision that had gotten this campaign to first place in the polls and already achieved history was getting lost in these personality fights, was getting sidetracked,” Mr. Stone told NewsMax TV on Monday.
Mr. Trump had said he fired Mr. Stone — a claim Mr. Stone said was “demonstrably false.”
That tracks with the way Mr. Trump handled the fallout from his comments on immigration from his campaign announcement. Macy’s, NBC, Univision and other businesses saw their ties with Mr. Trump severed, though he and they disputed who did the cutting.
Nevertheless, Mr. Stone said he still thinks the real-estate mogul is the best candidate in the field, saying he has the ability to be independent.
Erick Erickson, the conservative organizer who disinvited Mr. Trump from this weekend’s RedState Gathering after the remarks about Ms. Kelly, said the businessman is doing damage control over his bad answers to questions for which he should have been prepared.
“Trump’s high polling will linger on awhile, but if another story does not come along to push stories about Trump personally off the front pages and lead stories of the television news, he will just be another in the long list of political stories that flare up and fade in the August doldrums of American politics,” Mr. Erickson wrote Monday.
Mr. Trump, however, is still reveling in the crowds and the approbation he is getting.
He posted a Twitter message saying Fox News President Roger Ailes called him and promised that the top-rated cable news network would treat him fairly, just hours after Mr. Trump publicly complained that he didn’t think he got fair treatment despite helping the network attract an astounding audience for Thursday’s debate.
Mr. Trump also said on MSNBC that “virtually every poll” shows voters believe he won the debate.
During the debate, Ms. Kelly read a list of disparaging comments about women attributed to Mr. Trump and asked him: “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 is likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?”
Mr. Trump drew guffaws from the crowd when he quipped that those remarks were only about actress and comedian Rosie O’Donnell. At the prodding of Ms. Kelly, who said that wasn’t true, Mr. Trump acknowledged that she was right.
Mrs. Clinton jumped into the controversy Monday, using Mr. Trump’s “outrageous” comment about Ms. Kelly to slam not only the candidate but also what she said was a larger anti-woman attitude among all the candidates on abortion and other topics at the Republican debate.
“I thought what he said was offensive, and I certainly think that it determines the kind of reaction that it’s getting from so many others,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters after a town hall in Exeter, New Hampshire.
“But I think if we focus on that, we’re making a mistake,” she added. “What a lot of the men on that stage in that debate said was offensive.”
In the wake of this latest flap, Mr. Trump has followed what has become standard formula for him: attacking the media and saying his remarks were misconstrued.
As he did after the remarks about Mr. McCain, Mr. Trump attached a conditional to anything that sounded like an apology.
Mr. Trump said on “Today” that it would be inappropriate for someone to imply that a female journalist was on her menstrual cycle.
“But I didn’t do that — if I did that — first of all, look, I happen to be a smart person. I went to the best schools, I was [a] great student, I built a great empire, I did ‘The Art of the Deal,’ I did ‘The Apprentice,’” he said. “It’s all fueled by the press — by you and the press. It’s ridiculous. Who would say such a thing? Now, if I would have said that, it would have been inappropriate.”