We’re all neocons now.
Well … not quite. Carlson stressed last night that the U.S. should do everything possible to avoid being dragged into the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. But as others have noted, his tone did sound notably different from it typically sounds. Why should American conservatives hate Putin, he wondered two days ago? Putin’s never called us racists. A day later he sneered that Ukraine was “a pure client state of the United States State Department,” implying that it’s hardly a real country at all. Which, coincidentally, is also Putin’s view.
Last night, with social media awash with videos of Russia pulverizing Ukraine, the reasons for why Americans should hate Putin had suddenly ballooned. And so Tucker inched away:
“What is happening in Ukraine, whatever its scale — and it’s not totally clear right now — but whatever it is it’s a tragedy because war always is a tragedy,” he opened, before blaming the Russian president for the deadly incursion.
“Vladimir Putin started this war,” Carlson said. “So whatever the context of the decision he made he did it, he fired the first shot. He is to blame for what we are seeing in Ukraine.”
Putin, not NATO, is to blame for the attack on Ukraine? Maybe there’s hope for Tucker yet.
But probably not:
Various clips of statements from Tucker leading up to yesterday pic.twitter.com/J1ARXGLt8R
— Acyn (@Acyn) February 25, 2022
I wonder what turned him into a (brief, modest) critic of Russian expansionism instead of western expansionism. Maybe he was grossed out watching Russian jets firing missiles at Ukrainians unprovoked. Or maybe the fact that he and Trump have become popular, oft-quoted figures on Russia’s warmongering state media has given him pause.
If I had to guess, though, I’d bet that Carlson is following the first rule of maintaining an exalted position in partisan media, which is never to get on the wrong side of your audience. Tucker’s always been more willing than most of his colleagues to bend that rule, like when he criticized the U.S. assassination of Qassem Soleimani at a moment when MAGA fans were high-fiving over Trump’s display of strength. He takes his isolationism seriously. But he may have concluded that Putin’s villainy has been so cartoonish this past week that the backlash to it among Americans might eventually cause a backlash to him too, even among otherwise loyal Fox viewers.
And he’s right to fear that. Read Ed’s post about the new Gallup poll on how Americans are feeling about Russia these days if you haven’t already. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen bipartisan agreement like this on any issue, foreign or domestic:
Republicans and Democrats are united in their negative views of Russia, with 88% of both groups holding an unfavorable view of the country, compared with 82% of independents. In 2021, Republicans and independents were equally likely to view the country negatively, with 74% of both groups expressing unfavorable views, while 84% of Democrats did so.
The flurry of statements yesterday from Republican pols, including some allied with Trump, harshly criticizing Putin was an omen of where opinion stood among rank-and-file righties but I never would have guessed that upwards of 90 percent are unfavorable towards Russia. No wonder Trump’s inner circle is whispering to him to maybe tone down the praise for Putin’s “genius.”
In fact, if anyone should view Putin’s attack on Ukraine as the opposite of genius, it’s a MAGA nationalist like Trump. Saagar Enjeti is another well-known nationalist who hosts a popular podcast and he’s beside himself at the folly of Putin’s war:
This is why Putin’s move was so colossally foolish. He has singlehandedly fulfilled hawks wildest dreams, united western public against RUS, ensures massive USA/EU defense budgets for years to come, perma deployment to Nato Eastern flank and decades of tension on the continent https://t.co/t02aOOGDFE
— Saagar Enjeti (@esaagar) February 25, 2022
Pretty much. In fact, the line for membership in NATO has gotten longer this week, not shorter.
Here’s another surprising poll result, one that dovetails with the Gallup numbers. It’s true that Republicans are critical of how Biden has handled Russia but it’s not because he’s been too aggressive in confronting Putin, as we might expect Tucker to claim. It’s because he hasn’t been aggressive enough:
Republicans are not fans of how Biden has handled Russia.
But when you ask a “Goldilocks” style question (too hot, too cold, just right?), you find a divide over whether Biden has been too cautious or too aggressive. https://t.co/xYZ2CsnbUu
— Kristen Soltis Anderson (@KSoltisAnderson) February 24, 2022
Republicans abhor weakness. At a moment when the Russian bear is bullying a U.S. ally, they don’t stop to ask a la Carlson, “Should I care if this bear eats someone as long as it isn’t me?” Instinctively, they want to kick the bear in the face.
Probably the most surprising polls out today, though, are the ones showing Americans willing to accept higher prices for the sake of sanctioning Russia. That would have surprised me even at a moment when inflation was low. To see it when inflation is already high is astounding. First, Morning Consult:
I’m skeptical that that spirit of sacrifice will last long, especially if Ukraine falls quickly. But I never would have guessed that Americans are so morally outraged at Putin’s aggression that they’d rubber-stamp more economic pain in the name of punishing him.
I’ll leave you with one more data point from Gallup, a reminder that Tucker’s view may have more support on the right than the current numbers about Russia might suggest. What do we make of this GOP split on NATO? Is it evidence of isolationist sentiment within the party, a reflection of Trump’s own skepticism of NATO? Or is it further evidence a la Anderson’s data above that Republicans think NATO’s been *too weak* in its attempts to deter Putin?