Tucker Carlson grabbed ratings, and Donald Trump’s ear, by savaging the GOP foreign policy establishment on Capitol Hill. But those Republicans aren’t exactly celebrating Carlson’s eviction from the airwaves.
In fact, the party’s hawkish lawmakers are largely shrugging at the former Fox News host’s departure from cable news. Those Republicans contend that Carlson’s influence — though significant, on both their base voters and a handful of Trumpian members — never truly resonated in national security and military matters.
And as much as they know Carlson’s fans will follow him wherever he lands next, they don’t see his loss of a public platform as likely to affect the GOP’s evolution on national security.
“You have got to think about the scale — I know he had an audience of three million people. There are 330 million people in the country,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said, adding that Carlson and other cable anchors have bigger sway over what lawmakers “think is wrong, versus how they can make things better.”
That response stems in part from Republican lawmakers’ disinterest in giving Carlson too much credit for the occasionally polarizing messages he broadcast on foreign policy. He waged a relentless campaign against further U.S. support for Ukraine in its war against Russia. He filmed his show in Hungary, the scene of significant democratic backsliding, and praised its far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Carlson also exerted serious pull on Donald Trump’s views on foreign policy and military issues while blocking and tackling for the former president. He defended Trump’s meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, saying that leading a country “means killing people.” And he called the outrage over Saudi Arabia’s government-sanctioned killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi “false.”
Steve Bannon claimed in 2019 that Carlson “has more influence on national security policy than many of the guys on [Trump’s] National Security Council.” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a Trump ally, said this week on Newsmax that he and Carlson were “directly involved in persuading President Trump to ignore some of the bad advice he was getting.”
But for members of Congress, Carlson’s noisiest jeremiads against them amounted to little more than static. As South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, put it: “National security issues, those are for most members a responsibility they take very seriously. And, yes, there are influencers out there. But I don’t think, one way or the other, that swings votes.”
Even as allies like Gaetz rallied around the ousted host, the vast majority of Republicans whom Carlson picked on-air fights with wouldn’t directly jab him in the aftermath of his sudden departure.
“[We] probably agree on many things, but I think we have a different worldview,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), blasted by Carlson just last month for advocating “anti-American stupidity” in Russia. “My worldview is not dependent on what somebody says on cable TV.”
A common refrain among GOP lawmakers was that while Carlson’s word greatly affected Trump and the GOP base, the broader electorate is less focused and responsive to the whims of cable news.
“It’s more about what my constituents are saying to me than different individual personalities,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said.
Sullivan pointed to a letter opposing “unrestrained” additional American support for Ukraine’s defense against Russia that got signed by just three Republican senators and 16 House Republicans as proof that Carlson’s arguments struggled to find a broader audience in Congress.
“I consume most of my information from podcasts at this point,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who’s leading a new House panel countering the influence of China. Gallagher acknowledged that Carlson is “very influential, but I presume he’ll still have a massive platform.”
Other Republicans who have aligned with Carlson’s views at times said his voice won’t be missed for long. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who described Carlson as a “personal friend,” predicted the former commentator would retain influence within the Republican Party wherever he ultimately lands.
“He has a very strong following,” Hawley said. “He has a very distinctive point of view and I bet that we’ll continue to hear his voice — and I think it’s an important voice.”
And even some lawmakers who often disagreed with Carlson’s divisive foreign policy positions still praised them, underscoring that the effect of his departure on the GOP isn’t black or white.
“Whether you agree with him or not, he was one of the few people out there that every day was sort of challenging orthodoxy — you didn’t like the show, you don’t have to watch it,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said. “There’s things I don’t agree with him on. There’s things that I find that he says that are edgy and interesting.”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) was among the lawmakers who opted against wading into Carlson’s departure for the same reason they avoided weighing in on CNN’s parting with anchor Don Lemon.
“I listened to both of them [Carlson and Lemon] and sometimes I agreed with them — and sometimes I didn’t,” Kennedy said. “But they always made me think, and that’s a good thing.”
One foreign-policy establishment voice on the Hill, however, wasn’t so circumspect.
“I’ve shed many tears over Tucker Carlson losing the show — many, many tears,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), whom Carlson once derisively referred to as “eyepatch McCain,” quipped in a brief interview. Crenshaw quickly added that he was being “really fucking sarcastic.”
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