Donald Trump and Bill O'Reilly have a complicated relationship involving tough questions, baseball games and milkshakes.
But things got uncomfortably testy — even by their standards — during an interview immediately following Thursday's Republican presidential debate in Detroit, when Trump suggested that the Fox News Channel host should seek the counsel of a mental health professional.
O'Reilly began by observing that the GOP front-runner looked "tired" — an appraisal Trump rejected — then followed with rapid-fire questions about a speech delivered earlier in the day by Mitt Romney, who excoriated Trump as a candidate, businessman and person. Trump seemed to take the inquiries in stride, at first, before suddenly veering into a passive-aggressive attack.
TRUMP: You've become very negative, I do think.
O'REILLY: Me? Why? Why would I do that?
TRUMP: I don't know. Who knows? You'll have to ask your psychiatrist. But I think you've become very negative.
O'REILLY: Toward you?
Trump avoided eye contact throughout the exchange and seemed to catch O'Reilly off-guard. Trump tried to break the tension by bringing his wife, Melania, into the conversation, but O'Reilly was determined to figure out what was bothering his interview subject.
O'REILLY: I want to get back to this. I think I've been very fair to you — very fair.
TRUMP: You've been fair, but I think you get a little bit carried away with yourself, frankly.
O'REILLY: You wanna give me an example?
TRUMP: No, I'm not gonna give you an example.
O'REILLY: Come on.
TRUMP: It's not worth it. We just a finished a debate, which I hear I just won, based on all of the polls. I've won a lot of debates. But I really had a good time tonight.
O'REILLY: All right.
O'Reilly then moved on to the prospect of an independent run. But as he closed the interview, O'Reilly — still seemingly surprised by Trump's sour mood — made a final request: "If I'm being unfair, you come on and tell me; you give it to me, man."
It sure looked like Trump's coldness bothered O'Reilly more than anything else — like he could deal with the candidate's anger but hated the thought that Trump might not even come on his show to express it.
Later, after interviewing the three other Republican candidates, O'Reilly delivered a special message to his viewers.
O'REILLY: My job here is to be fair — to be fair to all the candidates, not to root for anyone. There's too much rooting, particularly on cable news. All right? There's a lot of deals made. "Come on my show. I'll do this, say that, I'll say this." We never do that — ever do that. Some guys are mad at me tonight. They'll be mad at me next week. I can't help it. What I have to do to you is to show you who the candidates are. ... Anyway, we appreciate you — our ratings [are] through the roof. We appreciate you guys watching us every night. We hope you got something out of the debate. It's done very well by Fox News. And we really appreciate you watching the "Factor" live from Detroit, Mich., tonight. Have a good evening. We'll see you soon.
Donald Trump's most controversial quotes
Donald Trump's most controversial quotes
1/14 On Isis:
"Some of the candidates, they went in and didn’t know the air conditioner didn’t work and sweated like dogs, and they didn’t know the room was too big because they didn’t have anybody there. How are they going to beat ISIS?"
2/14 On immigration:
"I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me —and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words."
3/14 On Free Trade:
"Free trade is terrible. Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people. But we have stupid people."
PAUL J. RICHARDS | AFP | Getty Images
4/14 On Mexicans:
"When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists."
5/14 On China:
"I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?... I love China. The biggest bank in the world is from China. You know where their United States headquarters is located? In this building, in Trump Tower."
6/14 On work:
"If you're interested in 'balancing' work and pleasure, stop trying to balance them. Instead make your work more pleasurable."
7/14 On success:
"What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate."
8/14 On life:
"Everything in life is luck."
9/14 On ambition:
"You have to think anyway, so why not think big?"
10/14 On his opponents:
"Bush is totally in favour of Common Core. I don't see how he can possibly get the nomination. He's weak on immigration. He's in favour of Common Core. How the hell can you vote for this guy? You just can't do it."
11/14 On Obamacare:
"You have to be hit by a tractor, literally, a tractor, to use it, because the deductibles are so high. It's virtually useless. And remember the $5 billion web site?... I have so many web sites, I have them all over the place. I hire people, they do a web site. It costs me $3."
12/14 On Barack Obama:
"Obama is going to be out playing golf. He might be on one of my courses. I would invite him. I have the best courses in the world. I have one right next to the White House."
13/14 On himself:
"Love him or hate him, Trump is a man who is certain about what he wants and sets out to get it, no holds barred. Women find his power almost as much of a turn-on as his money."
14/14 On America:
"The American Dream is dead. But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before and we will make America great again."
It was as if O'Reilly wanted to be sure that all the Trump fans in his audience don't turn on him — that they understand he has a job to do and is looking out for them. It was actually a Trump-like argument, in the sense that O'Reilly cast himself as something of an outsider who doesn't play the typical cable news game.
O'Reilly was wildly successful long before Trump ran for president, so it's probably an exaggeration to say that he needs the former reality star. But there's no denying that O'Reilly's uncommon rapport with Trump has been a valuable asset during the campaign. Though he has been hard on Trump, at times — such as when he blasted the real estate mogul's plan to block all Muslims from entering the United States — he clearly has Trump's respect. Or at least he did before Thursday's acrimony.
When Trump briefly boycotted Fox News in September, he ended the hiatus by appearing on "The O'Reilly Factor." And in January, when Trump announced he would skip a Fox News debate, he nevertheless kept a commitment to be a guest on O'Reilly's show.
That's the kind of access no host would want to lose.
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