“Good riddance” was how Tucker Carlson reacted Wednesday night to news that Sen. Al Franken appeared poised to resign under pressure from his Democratic colleagues. That's how a Fox News opinion host would be expected to respond to a liberal senator's downfall, which seemed complete when Franken said on Thursday that he would indeed step down.
Yet Carlson quickly curbed his enthusiasm and urged conservative viewers to do the same.
“Enjoy the schadenfreude, the pure animal thrill of watching a powerful person knocked from a high perch, but at the same time, ask yourself, what if this happened to you?” Carlson said. “Imagine being accused by someone whose name you didn't know of something that supposedly happened more than a decade ago. How would you respond? How could you respond? What if you were innocent, by the way? And what if nobody cared?”
Carlson is not alone among Fox News commentators in arguing that Franken was denied due process by his fellow Democrats, who before conducting an investigation into his alleged groping habit suddenly blitzed the Minnesotan with calls to quit.
“What you saw today was a lynch mob,” Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich said Wednesday on Laura Ingraham's show. The former House speaker argued that Democrats' mind-set is, “Let's just lynch him because when we are done, we will be so pure.”
Gingrich's point about purity is at the center of Fox News's commentary on Franken. The contention is that Democrats are not acting nobly but are merely trying to claim the moral high ground on the issue of sexual misconduct so that they will have standing to denounce Republicans such as Roy Moore and President Trump, who face accusations of their own.
“They have now determined that it is worth sacrificing Franken, just like they did John Conyers — throw him overboard to save the political Titanic that is their party,” Ingraham said. “What does this do? It sets the precedent for the Democrats to try to drive Roy Moore from office, should he win the Alabama Senate race. And two, this is the next step in the quest to impeach President Trump. The left is brilliant.”
“Don't be fooled by any of this,” Sean Hannity added on his show Wednesday night. “This Democratic decision today obviously was coordinated, and to turn on Franken, it's purely political.”
Purely political might be a bit strong, but political calculus is clearly involved. A popular argument among Moore's supporters has been that as long as Democrats such as Franken and Conyers remain in office, Moore should not be disqualified, either. Breitbart's John Nolte has made this case rather eloquently:
Now that Conyers has resigned and Franken has said he will do the same, the party has eroded a leading defense of Moore.
It is also worth remembering that Conyers represented a reliably-blue district, meaning another Democrat will probably take his place, and that Franken's seat will be filled by an appointee of Minnesota's Democratic governor until a special election. In other words, Democrats can lose Franken and Conyers without losing representation in Congress.
But if Democrats are acting on political considerations, then the reverse could be true, too. By defending Franken now, conservative pundits such as Carlson, Gingrich, Ingraham and Hannity seem to be positioning themselves to more credibly stand up for Republicans in the future. Should Moore win, they will be able to argue against his expulsion from the Senate — or, at least, demand a thorough investigation — and point to their stance on Franken as evidence that they are motivated by principle, not partisanship.
This post has been updated with Franken's announcement that he will resign.