Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s sudden departure from the cable network is being greeted as good news by Republicans who support U.S. intervention in the war in Ukraine.
Carlson was one of the most prominent critics of U.S. involvement to defend Kyiv against Moscow’s invasion.
“It’s a bad day for Vladimir Putin,” a Senate Republican aide said. “This takes one of the biggest critics of Ukraine war in Republican and conservative circles off the table.”
The aide noted that some GOP senators were also uncomfortable with what they viewed as Carlson’s over-the-top rhetoric opposing vaccine mandates, which divided conservatives during the pandemic.
When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) declared that the war in Ukraine was a “territorial dispute” and not a vital national interest — a statement that many Republicans later criticized — he did so in response to a query from Carlson.
DeSantis quickly walked back his comment after getting strong pushback on Capitol Hill from prominent lawmakers including Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
One Republican senator, who requested anonymity to comment on a media figure who had a loyal following among many right-leaning voters, said Carlson’s departure from prime time would be a positive development for maintaining public support for the war.
“He wasn’t troubled by whether something was true or not. He was mean, irresponsible and dangerous,” the lawmaker said.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has called the Ukraine crisis “one of the greatest demonstrations of good versus evil we’ve seen in our lifetimes,” said Carlson had a big influence on many Republicans.
“There have been some that have argued that he was setting foreign policy for the Republican Party, which I find to be bizarre. Certainly not for me,” he said. “To the primary [Republican] voter, the active participant, the grassroot voter, he’s a person they listen to and has a big influence.”
Asked how he evaluated Carlson’s influence on the GOP electorate, Romney said “it depends on the issue but I think with regards to Russia and Ukraine he was misguided.”
Romney also expressed disbelief over Carlson’s defense of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to halt the certification of the 2020 presidential election.
Carlson aired television specials that attempted to reframe the attack on the Capitol as a largely peaceful protest activity after his show gained exclusive access to 41,000 hours of security footage.
“It’s really disheartening and disappointing that an intelligent person would take a stance defending people who break into the symbol of democracy here and around the world,” Romney said.
Carlson may continue to have a media profile, such as other former Fox stars like Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, but he’s not expected to have nearly the same influence on Republican politics without his prime-time slot on Fox.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to the Senate Republican leadership team, said Carlson is not “going away” but predicted he’ll have less influence on Republican politics now that he’s lost his coveted 8 p.m. slot on Fox News, which drew more than 3 million viewers a night.
Cornyn noted that Beck “continued to be a voice and have some impact although it was diminished” after leaving Fox.
Carlson questioned what the United States hoped to accomplish by intervening in the conflict and grilled Republican presidential hopefuls about what they thought the exit strategy should be.
He defended Putin by asking his viewers to ask themselves: “Why do I hate Putin? … Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?”
Carlson clashed with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other defense hawks last year when he urged Republicans to oppose an omnibus spending package that included a 9.7 percent increase for defense programs.
“Here’s the amazing thing, some Republicans in the Senate are working with Democrats to get this bill passed before Christmas. They don’t have to do that,” he said in December, arguing that GOP senators could have insisted on a spending freeze until after Republicans took control of the House in January.
“What is going here. It seems like a great betrayal,” he said.
Cornyn said most Republican senators disagreed with Carlson’s skeptical view of U.S. support for Ukraine, which has cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.
“I disagree with what he was advocating for and I think the majority opinion, the substantial majority opinion, in the Congress is it’s in America’s best interest to continue to support Ukraine,” he said.
Asked about DeSantis’s statement minimizing the war in Ukraine as a “territorial dispute,” Cornyn noted the Florida governor “walked that back some.”
“I think people are just trying to find the center of mass of public opinion on that but my view is that it’s in our national interest to help Ukraine,” he said.
He added that it was his “impression” that DeSantis had Carlson’s criticism of U.S. support for the war in mind when he issued his controversial statement.
Danielle Pletka, a distinguished senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute specializing in foreign and defense policy, echoed others in calling Carlson one of the nation’s most prominent critics of U.S. support for Ukraine and hailed his departure from Fox as a significant development.
“Yay, ding dong, Tucker Carlson is gone,” she said.
Pletka said Carlson appeared at times to have more prominence in the debate over Ukraine than Biden.
“The idea that an anchor on Fox News was influencing the debate when the president of the United States hasn’t spoken on the issue, it’s really staggering,” she said, arguing that Biden has not done enough to explain to the nation why the war is an important national security concern.
“Tucker Carlson is on TV every single night, no one else is. Nature abhors a vacuum and he filled it nicely,” she added, with a dose of sarcasm. “I think he was an influential voice. It was uninformed and a dangerous voice against” U.S. support for the war.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said Carlson’s sudden departure from Fox won’t have an immediate impact on any votes on Capitol Hill for military and economic aid to Ukraine but acknowledged the former primetime host had a large following.
“I think the votes up here probably are what they are,” he said. “Clearly he’s got a following and he’s got an audience out there but I think people up here are going to weigh the relative value of America’s involvement in that war based on what’s in our national security interests.”
Some lawmakers were reluctant to comment on Carlson’s abrupt split with Fox without knowing all the details.
“I assume, don’t know, but I assume it was a business decision. Obviously there was something they didn’t have a meeting of the minds about. I assume he’ll have a voice wherever he goes next. He had a following there,” Thune said.