The Donald Trump vs. Megyn Kelly battle took a huge turn tonight with Trump's campaign manager announcing the candidate will not participate in Thursday’s GOP debate on Fox News.
It came amid a week of back and forth tweets and insults with Trump at first saying Kelly should not be one of three moderators because of her "bias" against him. He based that claim on the tough questions she asked him at the first GOP debate in August about ugly remarks he had made about women.
But while such threats seemed like part of a dance Trump did with the media to build audiences and try to game the moderators, this is a serious matter coming as it does two nights before the last debate before Iowa.
It is serious on several fronts.
First, it could mean millions of dollars in ads lost by Fox News. Advertisers will pull out if Trump is not on that stage. Trump knows that and that's why he has made these threats before.
But before they were only vague threats. Trump's campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was very specific in saying Trump "definitely would not" participate in the upcoming Fox News debate, according to CNN.
Trump was further threatening to hold his own event in Iowa Thursday night, which he hopes to have televised to punish Fox competitively.
It's also serious for Fox management in that it will surely take some heat for the statement issued today mocking Trump for a social media poll he was taking to see if he should appear on the debate with Kelly Thursday night.
"We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president — a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings," a Fox News spokesperson wrote in an email to the Sun.
By late afternoon, Trump was using the mocking tone to beat Fox over the head for "insulting" him. He was further attributing the insult to Roger Ailes, head of the channel.
Up until this statement, I was totally with Fox on this. (Read that here.) You do not let a candidate tell you who can or cannot moderate a debate. And when a candidate tries to intimidate a reporter or anchor as Trump did with Kelly, you make it clear that you are standing behind that reporter or anchor 100 percent when they are in the right as Kelly was.
But there is a high-road way to do that, and it does not include mocking the candidate in the manner this statement does.
Does Trump deserve to be mocked? Yes, he's been an arrogant bully about this, and his social media "poll" was ridiculous. But journalistic institutions should not be the agent of such mockery, especially in matters as serious as these debates are to democracy.
But respect for the connection between TV debates and democracy is also where this gets serious for Trump. Refusing to participate on the eve of the caucuses deprives many Iowans of getting one last look at the candidate under what is sure to be heavy fire from Ted Cruz and other candidates – beyond the trio of moderators.
Boycotting the debate says Trump cares more about his own prickly sense of pride than giving those voters that last opportunity. Simply put: He cares more about himself than he does democracy. And one thing you can say about his behavior is that it is not presidential.
As I said Sunday in response to Trump trying to bait Kelly on Twitter, he has lowered all sorts of bars in this campaign.
But while Kelly held to the high ground, Fox let itself be dragged down to Trump's level of snark and ridicule.
Given the history of Trump and Fox, anything is possible between now and Thursday.
But the process of electing a president has already been cheapened and turned into a show-biz booking war.