How long is this going to last? Republican senators are not immediately buckling to Tucker Carlson’s shilling for Vladimir Putin. The Fox News personality is very much on board with the Russian president’s plans to invade Ukraine, and he’s attacking Republicans who don’t join him. But, unlike when Sen. Ted Cruz groveled to Carlson after angering the television host by describing Jan. 6 as a “violent terrorist attack,” several Republicans aren't backing down.
Sen. Jim Risch, according to Carlson, is “a moron masquerading as a senator” and a “pompous neocon buffoon.” Risch apparently set Carlson off with a CNN appearance in which he said outrageous things like, “The people who are saying that we shouldn’t be engaged in this at all are going to be singing a very different tune when they go to fill up their car with gas, if indeed there is an invasion by Russia” and “we side, always, with countries that are democracies.” Risch didn’t comment about Carlson’s comments, but neither did he follow Cruz’s lead by asking to appear on Carlson’s show to grovel.
Carlson called Sen. Joni Ernst “ignorant,” about which she responded to Politico, “I get great intel briefings and we have trusted advisers that provide many points of view. And I would say I’m pretty well educated on this subject.” (Joni Ernst is awful, but she is much tougher than Ted Cruz.)
Asked by Politico about Carlson’s stance, Sen. John Cornyn said, “He’s obviously not in a position of being responsible for those decisions. And we are,” making the case that, “Putin is not the only one watching us in Ukraine. [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping] is watching us. And our allies around the world—obviously after Afghanistan—are doubting our credibility, our reliability.” (Yeah, I think it was less Afghanistan and more the entire 2017 through 2020 period that had allies doubting the credibility and reliability of the U.S.)
With Carlson’s support for a Russian invasion of Ukraine building support among the Republican base—to the point that Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski told Politico his office was getting calls from constituents who “say they watch Tucker Carlson and are upset that we’re not siding with Russia in its threats to invade Ukraine, and who want me to support Russia’s ‘reasonable’ positions”—it’ll be interesting to see which congressional Republicans flip to that side first.
Sen. Josh Hawley is predictably trying to walk a line between sucking up to the Carlson base and continuing to get media coverage as a serious Republican thinker. In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Hawley backed support for Ukraine against a Russian invasion, but did so only as a fairly brief acknowledgement in a much longer argument that the U.S. should drop its support for Ukraine’s eventual—and at this point largely hypothetical—admission into NATO. In 2008, under President George W. Bush, the U.S. signed on to support Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO. In 2022, there’s no real movement on that, but Hawley feels it’s very urgent to talk about it. It’s almost like he’s looking for a way to look ready to ditch Ukraine somehow even as his position on the current issue is that “we should urgently deliver to Ukraine assistance it needs to defend itself against Russia’s military buildup and other threats.” Please Tucker, don’t attack me!
It’s kind of refreshing to see Carlson not entirely setting the Republican agenda in areas where Donald Trump has left a void. But the fact that it’s surprising Republicans aren’t immediately buckling to a know-nothing television host is a commentary on their party that they might want to stop and think about at some point.