Attack against Megyn Kelly could hint at core of Donald Trump’s appeal

Donald Trump gets a degree of support from all parts of the GOP spectrum. That suggests that, to some extent, his pugnacious personality is central to his appeal.

John Minchillo/AP Photo/File
Photos of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, and Fox News Channel host and moderator Megyn Kelly are combined from images taken at the first Republican presidential debate in Cleveland on Aug. 6, 2015. Mr. Trump is welcoming Ms. Kelly back from a vacation with a broadside of criticism, tweeting that he liked her show better when she was away. Trump has been attacking Kelly since her tough questioning of him during the debate.

For a presidential candidate, Donald Trump takes personal feuds to an extreme. But is that belligerence the very core of his appeal?

That’s a question that arises out of the latest Trump imbroglio. He’s attacking Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly again, weeks after she questioned him sharply about his descriptions of women at the first Republican presidential debate.

Ms. Kelly returned from vacation to her Fox show “The Kelly File” Monday night, and Mr. Trump used that occasion to dish out vitriol. He tweeted that he liked her show better without her and that perhaps she should take more time off. He then retweeted a message from an admirer that called Kelly a “bimbo.”

Fox News chief Roger Ailes issued a response, calling Trump’s attack “as unacceptable as it is disturbing.” Mr. Ailes called on Trump to apologize. The Donald zinged back almost immediately.

“I do not think Megyn Kelly is a quality journalist,” he said.

Why is this happening now? Maybe the whole thing is a sham fight that will benefit both sides, leading up to an inevitable Trump appearance on her show. We doubt that, though, since the Fox News folks are rallying around Kelly, calling on Trump to back down. The whole thing has a Sharks versus Jets anger about it.

“Is this guy a seven-year-old?” tweeted Fox analyst Brit Hume, in apparent wonderment.

Trump did not have to engage in this dispute, after all. Kelly’s time off the air gave him plenty of room to let things cool. But he chose to reignite the flame on purpose. Perhaps that’s the core of Trump’s voter appeal: It’s centered on a desire for conflict.

There’s no obvious ideological or demographic component in his voter base, after all. He gets a degree of support from all parts of the GOP spectrum. That means that to some extent, it is Trump’s personality that is the core of his appeal. And that personality is nothing if not pugnacious.

That’s what Republican pollster Frank Luntz appeared to find, anyway. He assembled a group of avowed Trump supporters in his D.C.-area office for a focus group on Monday night. According to an account of the focus group in Time magazine, the Trumpians generally espoused a “we’re not going to take it anymore” anger.

“They believed Washington politicians and the Republican Party had repeatedly misled them, and that the country is going down the tubes. They looked for relief in Trump,” writes Time’s Sam Frizell.

Mr. Luntz showed the group clips of Trump’s unbridled attacks. For instance, they saw Trump describe comedian Rosie O’Donnell as having a “fat, ugly face.” But that did not give them pause, apparently.

“At the end of the session, the vast majority said they liked Trump more than when they walked in,” according to Mr. Frizell.

Perhaps they equate Trump’s eagerness for conflict with power. Specifically, he’s like a cartoon superhero, writes Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan. Trump promises to wipe away intractable problems with the application of nothing but willpower – an attitude that Professor Nyhan has dubbed the “Green Lantern theory of the presidency.”

Trump says he’ll increase the number of US jobs by getting them back from China and Mexico, for instance, via tougher personal negotiation. He’ll find a way to deport the 11 million undocumented workers in the United States via “management.”

Trump is doing well in part because he’s a famous celebrity. He attracts enormous media attention.

“But he has also exploited our vulnerability to pleasing fictions about presidential power,” writes Nyhan at "The Upshot" at The New York Times. “We like to pretend that presidents exert vast control over the country, commanding not only the direction of American politics but also the laws and policies of the country and even the state of the economy.”

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