After Donald Trump attacked Fox News' Megyn Kelly for her probing debate questions on the billionaire's treatment of women, Republican presidential candidates are clamoring to her defense -- and castigating Trump in the process.
"Due to Donald Trump's unrelenting and offensive attack on Megyn Kelly and others, we are at a crossroads with Mr. Trump," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said in a statement Saturday. "As a party, we are better to risk losing without Donald Trump than trying to win with him. Enough already with Mr. Trump."
The morning after Thursday's first Republican debate, Trump took to social media and retweeted a post calling Kelly a "bimbo." Though the Twitter post was later deleted, the businessman's attacks didn't stop.
On Friday, Trump struck out at Kelly's journalistic bona fides: "She's not very tough and not very sharp," Trump told CNN. "I don't respect her as a journalist."
And when answering a question about Kelly's debate remarks, Trump dismissed her, saying "there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever."
Despite Trump's attempts to later clarify the statement in a Twitter post, the allusion to Kelly as angrily hormonal launched a conservative firestorm. His comments even caused right-wing commentator Erick Erickson to withdraw Trump's invitation to the RedState forum in Atlanta on Saturday.
Graham applauded Erickson's move, saying he did "the right thing when he disinvited Donald Trump from a gathering of Republican activists."
"These statements are not worthy of the office he is seeking nor consistent with the leadership we should expect from a commander-in-chief in these dangerous times," the South Carolina Republican said.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also lauded Erickson's move, telling the RedState host that his decision was "the right one."
"Do we want to win? Do we want to insult 53 percent of all voters?" Bush said Saturday. "What Donald Trump said is wrong. That is not how to win elections, and worse yet, that is not how you bring people together to solve problems."
Bush added that "Mr. Trump ought to apologize."
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined in the Trump criticism, lambasting the real estate magnate for not having "the temperament to hold our nation's highest office."
"Attacking veterans, Hispanics and women demonstrates a serious lack of character and basic decency," Perry, who was not on the main debate stage Thursday, said in a statement. "His comments distract from the serious issues facing our country."
And while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did not issue a direct response to Trump's debate comments, he admitted Saturday that, "I just don't believe this is the arena where his talents can best be used."
"I like him. I think he's a good guy," Christie told conservative news host David Brody. "I think he's got a lot of skills, but I just don't think for this. I think he's not right for this."
Trump issued a statement Saturday that doubled down on his comments about Kelly's debate moderation, adding that he had "made Megyn Kelly look really bad -- she was a mess with her anger and totally caught off guard."
He also sought to clarify his remarks to CNN, saying that "only a deviant would think" he was referring to Kelly's menstruation: "Mr. Trump said 'blood was coming out of her eyes and whatever,' meaning nose but wanted to move on to more important topics."
The presidential hopeful also said Erickson was a "total loser" and had a "history of supporting establishment losers in failed campaigns." Trump added that it was an "honor" to be uninvited from the conservative forum.
But Trump's bombastic attempts to mitigate the fallout didn't stop Republican candidates from weighing in.
"Everyone deserves respect and dignity, whether they agree with you or not. You don't tear people down just because they disagree with you or stand up to you or question you," Ohio Gov. John Kasich said on Twitter. "I deliberately seek out different views in my life and work, and I am grateful for the strong women in my family, in my office, in my cabinet and on my campaign because they improve everything they touch."
While former Fox News host and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee refused to address Trump's comments directly, he defended Kelly's professionalism at Saturday's RedState gathering.
"There is not a more professional, a more savvy and more brilliant person in television today than Megyn Kelly," Huckabee told reporters. " The Republican Party is not engaged in a war on women. The Republican Party is not engaged in saying things about Megyn Kelly. One individual is."
Another prominent name associated with Fox News went to bat for Kelly: media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch commended his network's debate moderators on Twitter, adding that Trump needed to learn "this is public life."
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