On his Monday night show, Fox News host Tucker Carlson made a comment that was shocking even by his standards. He said he’s rooting for Russia to prevail in its armed conflict with Ukraine’s fledging democracy — a conflict that began when Russia illegally invaded its neighbor years ago and continues to this day.
During a segment about impeachment with former Hillary Clinton adviser Richard Goodstein, Carlson questioned why Americans should even care that President Donald Trump used hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to leverage Ukraine into investigating his political rivals in the first place. Goodstein responded by noting that “people are dying on the front lines” there. (More than 13,000 people have died as a result of the conflict so far.)
The US government hasn’t always thought that providing military aid to Ukraine is the smartest way to maintain stability in Eastern Europe. But even Republicans who don’t think Trump should be impeached for using it as leverage for political favors generally believe that deterring Russian aggression and protecting democracy in Eastern Europe is important. Carlson, however, went on to express a view that in a previous era would have been far outside the foreign policy mainstream, but accords with the type of nihilism he’s played a leading role in promoting during the Trump era.
“Why do I care what is going on in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia?!” Carlson said. “And I’m serious. Why do I care? Why shouldn’t I root for Russia? Which I am.”
Tucker: "Why do I care what is going on in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia? I'm serious. Why shouldn't I root for Russia? Which by the way I am." pic.twitter.com/OQopoxPYD9— nikki mccann ramírez (@NikkiMcR) November 26, 2019
Carlson saying he doesn’t care what happens in Ukraine, and that he, in fact, hopes that the country is subjugated by Moscow may accord with an extreme interpretation of Trump’s “America First” foreign policy, but it belies that idea that the United States stands for democracy at home and abroad. The clip of Carlson’s comments quickly went viral, and as his show drew to a close, Carlson — apparently aware of the stir he caused — tried to walk it back.
“Before we go, earlier in the show I noted I was rooting for Russia in the contest between Russia and Ukraine,” Carlson said. “Of course, I’m joking. I’m only rooting for America —mocking the obsession many on the left have. Ha!”
At the very end of his show, obviously aware his declaration that he's rooting for Russia against Ukraine had become a thing, Tucker Carlson claims that he was "joking" when he said it and that he was merely mocking "obsession" with Russia. pic.twitter.com/MxFLMRiApa— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) November 26, 2019
It should be noted that Carlson’s comments about Russia weren’t the only time on Monday’s broadcast that he defended an authoritarian leader. During a segment immediately following his discussion with Goodstein, Carlson defended Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad by questioning whether he was really responsible for committing war crimes against his own people — a position at odds with a mountain of evidence indicating that Assad is in fact responsible.
There’s a new Assad apologist in town pic.twitter.com/De83keOJn2— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) November 26, 2019
As former Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub noted in response to Carlson’s comments on Tuesday morning, his open rooting for Russia and defense of Assad alludes to a deep fault line below the surface of modern politics. In the Trump era, it’s not so much liberals versus conservatives, but those who believe in democracy versus those who are, at best, indifferent about Putin-style authoritarianism.
Fox News host says he roots for Russia against the West. He said the quiet part out loud. This clip is just one more exhibit supporting the case that it's no longer left vs. right but democracy vs. authoritarianism. I think many still underestimate the threat to the republic. https://t.co/K18P9sPgld— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) November 26, 2019
Trumpworld continues to buy what Carlson is selling
Carlson, of course, has a long history of being criticized for promoting white nationalism, Islamophobia, sexism, and lies in service of Trump. Yet last month his show was the second best-rated on all of cable news — only trailing his Fox News colleague Sean Hannity — and he continues to enjoy a remarkably cozy relationship with President Trump, with whom he’s traveled on foreign trips.
But comments like the ones he made on Monday illustrate why, despite his strong ratings, Carlson has a hard time retaining advertisers. And on Tuesday, Michael Blake, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), used his appearance on one of Fox News’s “straight news” shows to question why Carlson still has a job with the network.
Asked to respond to comments Carlson made about Michelle Obama, Blake instead turned his fire on Carlson.
“The core question is why the hell does Tucker Carlson still have a job here in the first place? The reality is this is someone who said white supremacy is a hoax,” Blake said. “Why does Fox still allow him to be here in the first place?”
“We didn’t bring you on to talk about Tucker Carlson, I brought you on to talk about the Democratic field,” host Bill Hemmer replied, ignoring the fact that he was the one who brought up Carlson in the first place.
— Lis Power (@LisPower1) November 26, 2019
Fox Guest: "The core question is why the hell does Tucker Carlson still have a job here in the first place? This is someone said white supremacy is a hoax. Why does Fox still allow him to be here in the first place?"
Fox Anchor: We didn't bring you on to talk about Tucker. pic.twitter.com/wQ2HftFiXG
Meanwhile, even Republican insiders like Frank Luntz criticized Carlson’s comments about Russia.