Backstage, in her tiny makeshift dressing room, a few hours before the Republican debate in Iowa, Megyn Kelly is sitting calmly in a chair while her hair is teased to Phyllis Diller heights. She chats with her makeup artist, a stack of predebate paperwork resting loosely in her lap, her phone, screen facing down, on top. Over the past 24 hours, the Fox journalist has become the biggest news story in the country, since Donald Trump blamed her alleged bias for keeping him from attending the Fox-hosted debate. In response, Kelly, 45, has done her level best to stay focused and avoid going online to read Twitter comments, though she confesses she did check her account once or twice, an admission that makes her whole team groan.
“I know, I know!” Kelly says, grimacing and bunching her narrow shoulders around her ears. “Bus exhaust—it’s not healthy,” she adds, dismissing the negative commentary and social media in general. (Unlike most public personalities, she refuses to do Instagram. “It’s like, ‘Look at me! Look at me again! Here I am, sucking everything in.’ Seriously, I find it so vain.”)
As anchor of her eponymous show The Kelly File, she is not only Fox’s Head Blonde in Charge (and second-highest ratings getter in cable news) but also the only journalist at the organization with the stones to call out her guests when they dip into absurdity or outright lunacy. Never more so than with Trump at the first Republican debate in August 2015, when she confronted him about his habit of referring to women as “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,” then refused to laugh along when he joked that he only meant Rosie O’Donnell.
For Trump, the not laughing along may have been the real crime. Kelly is a woman he can’t process. She resembles the female archetype he typically favors—classically beautiful, thin, styled, sexy, sharp, not so far off from his series of wives or his daughter Ivanka. Yet Kelly does not play by traditional rules. In fact, she doesn’t play at all. Kelly is not about ingratiation. Or being cowed. Which is why, even after being threatened and pilloried online by Trump and his supporters for months—beginning with his intimating that an “angry” Kelly must have had her period and quickly descending into incendiary name calling, doctored photos and worse—Kelly has held firm, kept cool and never wavered in her intention to “ask him hard questions, just like I would ask of any candidate.”
Nor has she flinched now that she’s found herself at the center of a political maelstrom, with Trump packing up his indignation to sashay away, in effect elevating her from debate moderator to dragon slayer of sorts, the only person to date who has intimidated Trump enough to send him running.
“I think it is safe to say Donald has lost Doug’s vote,” Kelly jokes, referring to her husband, novelist Doug Brunt, with whom she has three children: sons Thatcher, age two, and Yates, age six, and daughter Yardley, age five. Kelly confides she’s received a ton of support from unexpected places, as well as from more predictable sources, such as her friend Dr. Phil McGraw, who urged her in a note to “enjoy the ride.” Relaying this, she squints her eyes.
“I’ve been thinking about that Margaret Thatcher quote where she said something like, ‘I love when they attack me personally because it means they don’t have a political argument left.’ ”Kelly absently refastens the smock that has fallen off her back. She holds a beat, glances around the crowded room, then tilts her head so her eyelashes can be glued in place.
To read our full interview, pick up our April issue, on sale March 22.