Is this the part where Trump finds out how fierce, tribal Fox can be?

Zurawik: Trump's taunting of Kelly Monday night crossed a line. I believe Roger Ailes will make him pay.

I hope Donald Trump enjoyed his Friday night under the lights in Mobile, because given the mistake he made with Roger Ailes and Megyn Kelly last night, it could be all downhill from here for his candidacy.

I thought Trump was out of control after the Fox debate when he started attacking Fox show host Megyn Kelly on Twitter that night for the tough questions she asked. But Ailes, the Fox CEO, brokered a backstage peace with the candidate, and Kelly took the high road by not responding to Trump's taunts and insults.

Instead of counting his blessings, like the improved and palsy-walsy presence he enjoyed on Fox the past 10 days, and moving on, Trump took to Twitter again last night and started bullying Kelly on her first night back from vacation. It was straight-up taunting.

One tweet: "I liked The Kelly File much better without @megynkelly. Perhaps she could take another eleven day unscheduled vacation!"

The "unscheduled vacation" reference is to Kelly having been off the air until last night on what Fox said was a previously scheduled 10-day vacation. Trump has been saying she was taken off the air after he and Ailes talked. The implication: Her tough questioning of the candidate at the debate resulted in her being essentially suspended.

Here's another: ".@megynkelly must have had a terrible vacation, she is really off her game. Was afraid to confront Dr. Cornel West. No clue on immigration!"

Just as he did in the wake of the debate, Trump even retweeted someone calling Kelly a "bimbo."

If I know anything about the unpredictable media world in which we now live, it is this: Trump crossed a line with a very tough and powerful media executive.

Kelly is the present and future of Fox News. Its ratings empire was built on the back of Bill O'Reilly, but he's in decline, as anyone can see from his soft coverage of Trump in recent nights.

She is the tent pole that will support the entire primetime lineup of Fox shows for years to come. And Ailes built her onscreen persona brick by brick. Her image was nurtured the way Louis B. Mayer built those of stars and starlets in the old Hollywood studio system.

Ailes would be the worst media executive in the world to stand by and let the single most valuable asset at Fox News be damaged - especially by a reckless character like Trump.

I would urge Trump to go back to the fall of 2010 and study the fierce and tribal warfare Fox News waged on NPR after the public broadcaster fired Juan Williams for a statement he made about being uncomfortable on a plane when he sees someone in Muslim garb.

Fox pounded NPR mercilessly for the callous way it treated Williams, and after an investigation was done of the firing, two senior managers wound up leaving NPR.

For its part, Fox hired Williams full time within days of his losing his relationship with NPR. I spoke to Williams at the time and know how much he felt the warmth of that Fox embrace from Ailes & Co. meant to him when he felt vulnerable.

And now, I am guessing Trump is going to feel the fire of the Fox wrath, unless he apologizes to Kelly - something I cannot imagine him doing.

Here's the statement from Ailes that Fox issued today:

Donald Trump's surprise and unprovoked attack on Megyn Kelly during her show last night is as unacceptable as it is disturbing. Megyn Kelly represents the very best of American journalism and all of us at Fox News Channel reject the crude and irresponsible attempts to suggest otherwise. I could not be more proud of Megyn for her professionalism and class in the face of all of Mr. Trump’s verbal assaults.

Her questioning of Mr. Trump at the debate was tough but fair, and I fully support her as she continues to ask the probing and challenging questions that all presidential candidates may find difficult to answer.

Donald Trump rarely apologizes, although in this case, he should. We have never been deterred by politicians or anyone else attacking us for doing our job, much less allowed ourselves to be bullied by anyone and we’re certainly not going to start now. All of our journalists will continue to report in the fair and balanced way that has made Fox News Channel the number one news network in the industry.”

Here's Trump's statement of response to Ailes:

I totally disagree with the Fox statement. I do not think Megyn Kelly is a quality journalist. I think her questioning of me, despite all of the polls saying I won the debate, was very unfair. Hopefully in the future I will be proven wrong and she will be able to elevate her standards to a level of professionalism that a network such as Fox deserves.

This is where I think Trump is going to get what he deserves for his abusive response to legitimate questions from Kelly.

 

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