Tucker Carlson of Fox News spent nearly three minutes of his opening monologue on Wednesday quoting verbatim from the economic plan unveiled this week by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential aspirant.
But his intention was not to disparage it. Hardly. He told Republicans, who are the lion’s share of his viewers, that they were voting against their own economic interests by backing candidates who did not speak like the consumer protection advocate and former Harvard Law School professor.
“She sounds like Donald Trump at his best,” Carlson said, in a striking show of support for the liberal firebrand who recently accused him of propagating hate.
There is no love lost between these two figures, and Carlson had no shortage of criticism for other aspects of Warren’s candidacy. Still, their agreement on certain fundamental questions about the economy revealed something about each of them — and about the inchoate political realignment that has made it unclear to which party causes from free trade to privacy protection belong.
For Carlson, who recently refused to apologize after the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America surfaced old recordings of him making racist and sexist remarks, the endorsement of Warren’s vision exemplified his efforts to distance himself from Republican orthodoxy at the very moment his network cleaves closer to the president. He has cast himself as a Trump-era populist truer to the creed than is the president himself, willing to speak hard truths to his own tribe, namely the Republican elite.
In January, he touched off a debate about whether conservatism had lost its way with a monologue about the errors of finance capitalism and the need to refocus on the national interest. Later that month, he suggested in an interview with Salon that he would consider voting for Warren in the presidential election, praising the book she published in 2003 with her daughter, titled, “The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are (Still) Going Broke.”
For Warren, the endorsement was a sign that her brand of economic populism — which is similar to that of a Democratic competitor, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — has resonated with not just any exponent of the Make America Great Again agenda but the self-appointed spokesman of those drawn to Trump’s protectionist message. Last month, Warren broke with other Democrats, including Sanders, in declining an invitation to appear at a presidential town hall hosted by Fox. She then proceeded to post images on Instagram of Carlson and other hosts behind an all-caps appeal to stop their “HATE-FOR-PROFIT FOX NEWS RACKET.”
Yet she is making a play for parts of the country as deeply associated with the president as is the network, the most watched on American cable. She drew applause recently in Kermit, W.Va., in a county where 4 out of every 5 voters voted for Trump in 2016. “I liked being in Kermit,” the senator said as she drove away.
At the same time, she hardly shies away from attacking the president. At an MSNBC town hall on Wednesday, Warren, who was the first presidential candidate to call for Trump’s impeachment, received a wave of applause when she claimed that he would be “carried out in handcuffs” if he were “any other person in the United States.”
While she was speaking on MSNBC, Carlson was on the rival network offering a “thought experiment” to demonstrate Warren’s appeal.
“What if the Republican leadership here in Washington had bothered to learn the lessons of the 2016 election?” asked the Fox host. “What if they’d understood, and embraced, the economic nationalism that was at the heart of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign? What would the world look like now, two and a half years later?”
One feature of such a world, he said, would be Republican leaders in Congress regularly “saying things like this.”
He proceeded to read, word for word, whole portions of “A Plan For Economic Patriotism,” Warren’s agenda for “aggressive intervention on behalf of American workers,” which she unveiled on Tuesday. The plan would create a new, cabinet-level “Department of Economic Development " and funnel $2 trillion into environmentally friendly industries, among other measures.
Carlson dwelt on her rhetoric. He quoted broadsides against American brands that host their production overseas. “Sure, these companies wave the flag, but they have no loyalty or allegiance to America,” the plan states.
It is just as harsh on politicians who enable outsourcing. “Politicians love to say they care about American jobs,” Carlson said, still quoting from Warren’s statement. “But for decades, those same politicians have cited 'free market principles’ and refused to intervene in markets on behalf of American workers. And of course, they ignore those same supposed principles and intervene regularly to protect the interests of multinational corporations and international capital.”
Finally, the plan states that a change in priorities is required. “We can navigate the changes ahead if we embrace economic patriotism and make American workers our highest priority, rather than continuing to cater to the interests of companies and people with no allegiance to America,” the document notes.
“End quote,” Carlson concluded.
The host asked his viewers to consider whether they disagreed with any part of what he had just read. “Was there a single word that seemed wrong to you?” he mused. “Probably not.”
“Here’s the depressing part: Nobody you voted for said that, or would ever say it,” he continued. “Republicans in Congress can’t promise to protect American industry. They wouldn’t dare to do that. It might violate some principle of Austrian economics. It might make the Koch brothers mad.”
Then came the big reveal. “The words you just heard are from — and brace yourself here — Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts,” he said.
Carlson celebrated the statement, he said, because it was shorn of the aspects of Warren’s campaign that he found most distasteful.
“There’s not a word about identity politics in the document,” he noted. “There are no hysterics about gun control or climate change. There’s no lecture about the plight of transgender illegal immigrants.” A transgender woman from El Salvador died on Saturday after falling ill at an immigrant detention center in New Mexico, a little more than a year after a similar fate befell another transgender migrant at a different detention center in the state.
Carlson neglected to mention the emphasis Warren was placing on climate-friendly manufacturing, or the fact that the senator has, in addition to backing reparations for black Americans, put forward plans to address income inequality that experts say would narrow the racial wealth gap.
Nevertheless, Carlson said he was convinced by her pitch. Put simply, he said, her “policy prescriptions make obvious sense” — from her suggestion that the government should buy American products to her proposed investment in research and development.
“She sounds like Donald Trump at his best,” he said. “Who is this Elizabeth Warren, you ask? Not the race-hustling, gun-grabbing abortion extremist you thought you knew.”
And yet, Carlson warned, “Elizabeth Warren is still all of those things, too. And that is exactly the problem, not just with Warren, but with American politics. In Washington, almost nobody speaks for the majority of voters.”
“Our leadership class remains resolutely libertarian, committed to the rhetoric of markets when it serves them, utterly libertine on questions of culture,” he observed, even as a handful of states were in the process of curtailing abortion rights under rules out of step with much of the developed world. Kate Gilmore, the United Nations deputy high commissioner for human rights, told the Guardian this week that new American restrictions on abortion amount to “torture.”
Carlson yearned for a candidate who would be “nationalist on economics” while at the same time “fairly traditional on the social issues.”
Polling suggests such a figure might find mixed results. Many voters think the economy favors the powerful, and there appear to be majorities for increased federal spending on a handful of priorities, from infrastructure to health care to environmental protection. Outsourcing tops lists of practices that workers or those pursuing employment say have hurt their career prospects, according to a survey last year by the Pew Research Center.
The picture is hazier when it comes to social issues, which have created widening fissures among voters, who have grown more extreme on both ends. While support for same-sex marriage, for instance, has steadily grown, divisions over abortion are as sharp as ever. On the issue of immigration, which Trump has made a focal point, Republicans and Democrats live in different universes.
Carlson blamed both parties but reserved his harshest judgment for Republicans, whom he assailed for opposing their standard-bearer as he attempted to impose tariffs on Mexican imports.
Warren also opposes the president’s approach, telling a crowd in Elkhart, Ind., on Wednesday, “Randomly raising tariffs on a handful of goods with no coherent policy and doing it nation by nation makes no sense at all.”
But Carlson chose a different target for his scorn. He mocked the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, imitating his voice as he repeated the Republican lawmaker’s verdict that “we’re not fans of tariffs.”
“No wonder they keep losing,” the Fox host said. “They deserve it.”
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