Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly spent 15 minutes on prime-time TV trying to persuade his old friend Donald Trump to attend Thursday’s crucial Iowa debate.
The real estate mogul has vowed to boycott the event because Fox refused to replace moderator Megyn Kelly and then issued a press release jibing at his feud with the female anchor.
In a desperate bid to change Trump’s mind, O’Reilly invited his friend of 35 years on to The O’Reilly Factor on Wednesday night and tried every approach – from flattery to insults to nostalgia.
But the clumsy back-and-forth ended with a disgruntled Trump insisting he will spend Thursday night at his own event, a fundraiser for veterans.
O’Reilly’s efforts seemed to be part of an across-the-board push by Fox to win over Trump – or at least drag out the hot topic. Later, Megyn Kelly hosted analysts and candidates – including Marco Rubio and Rand Paul – who all warned this saga could spell the end of Trump’s lead in the polls.
O’Reilly started by applauding Trump’s strength, but warned that voters ‘need to see you in high-profile situations’ as the all-important Iowa caucus approaches.
He then described all the merits of a debate, and how it can strengthen a candidate – even Newt Gingrich, who won South Carolina in 2012 after adeptly hitting back at embarrassing personal questions in a CNN debate.
Eventually he changed tack, and said: ‘You’re making a big mistake’. His words echoed countless analysts and past candidates who warn that Iowa is too important to gamble on a personal issue.
Regan slumped from 50 per cent in the Iowa polls to 26 per cent in the Iowa vote in 1980 after skipping the debate. Hillary Clinton conceded to Obama and John Newton in the 2008 primary after flying into Des Moines on a helicopter and hosting large impersonal rallies.
Trump dismissed O’Reilly’s points, repeatedly slammed Kelly as ‘overrated’, claimed Fox will suffer financially without him, and denied accusations that he is being ‘petty’.
‘I just don’t like being used,’ Trump told O’Reilly.
He maintained that he will not be attending the debate, and instead will host an event at Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium, which seats 775 people, at 9pm to benefit ‘veteran organizations’.
And so O’Reilly cited God and implored Trump to turn the other cheek. Trump said: ‘It’s called eye for an eye.’
Finally, in his most blatant bid for Trump to change his mind during their interview, O’Reilly said: ‘I bought you so many vanilla milkshakes, you owe me… Will you just reconsider?’
Trump, who is clearly not amused, firmly tells O’Reilly that they agreed he would not ask him about that on the program, which was taped earlier in the afternoon.
O’Reilly’s efforts appeared to align with Fox’s attempts to win over Trump.
While the network appears to be publicly siding with Kelly, who is still set to moderate Thursday’s debate, the network is also reportedly trying to privately plead with Trump the best way they know how – through the women in his life.
Joe Scarborough, who has a close relationship with many people at Fox News, revealed on Morning Joe Wednesday morning that Fox News CEO Roger Ailes had been trying to contact both Ivanka and Melania Trump hoping they could convince Trump to change his mind.
However, Trump would only speak to Rupert Murdoch, the report claimed.
The real estate mogul is hosting his own event – a fundraiser for veterans – on Thursday night as his competitors unite for the one crucial Iowa debate days before the caucus.
But though Trump insists he is confident this won’t dent his lead, former candidates and political analysts aren’t so sure.
Newt Gingrich, who famously won the 2012 South Carolina primary after his defiant response to personal questions during a CNN debate, reacted to Trump’s interview with O’Reilly by saying he is being ‘petulant’ and ‘petty’.
‘The excuses are laughable,’ Gingrich told Bill O’Reilly minutes later.
His words came minutes after Trump appeared on the show to defend himself by saying ‘I just don’t like being used’.
‘He’s got to be more than a real estate billionaire,’ Gingrich said. ‘His explanations are so personal and so petty. You’ve got to think about the country.’
Read more: Daily Mail