Charen: Tucker Carlson’s fatal attraction
The title of my 2003 book, “Useful Idiots,” was a reference to a perhaps apocryphal quote sometimes attributed to Lenin to the effect that gullible liberals in the West would prove useful idiots for the Soviet Union. I wrote about Democrats. Twenty-one years later, the epithet belongs wholeheartedly to the GOP. Their choice to support Trump — Putin’s biddable spaniel — for the party’s nomination; their decision to sabotage aid to Ukraine; and Tucker Carlson’s ring-kissing visit to the dictator’s lair cements the status of Republicans as the useful idiots of the 21st century.
The party has turned its back on America’s world role and very identity as a tent pole of global stability. Republicans are well down the path of handing Putin an historic victory in his war of conquest against Ukraine, and so dies the consensus in place since 1945 that aggression must never be rewarded. Think of what this will do to NATO, whose membership has expanded in response to Russian belligerence. Think of what it conveys to China about American resolve on Taiwan. Think of what it says to Iran, whose proxies have been firing at American forces and international shipping for three months. And consider what it conveys to friends who may rethink their relationships with a country so clearly unreliable. The Republicans, who imagine themselves “tough,” are signaling the very opposite — cringing capitulation to a despot.
Tucker Carlson is not a useful idiot. The term implies naivete, but he seems to know exactly what he’s doing. He claims to be in Moscow to interview Putin because the rest of the press refuses to do so. In fact, Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, was just one of many who have pointed out that major press organizations have repeatedly requested interviews and been rebuffed. Peskov explained that Carlson had been approved because “he has a position that differs from the rest of (Western media).” Yes, supine.
For the past several years, Carlson’s project has been consonant with Putin’s. Both seek to sow division in the United States. Both seek to flood the zone with s— so that people won’t know what to believe or whom to trust.
Carlson played a leading role in spreading the big lie about the 2020 election and distorting the events of Jan. 6. He’s the one to whom Kevin McCarthy released thousands of hours of surveillance tape so that Carlson could then cherry pick a few anodyne frames and say to his millions of viewers (I’m paraphrasing) “See, a normal tourist visit.”
Months later, in a display of his dominance over Republicans, Carlson forced Ted Cruz to grovel on the air for having called the Jan. 6 rioters “terrorists.” Carlson has been one of the chief conduits for Russian disinformation in the United States, peddling lies such as the story that the U.S. government was involved in chemical and biological research labs in Ukraine. The truth is easy enough to find: The American bioweapons program was shut down in the 1960s, while Russia’s bioweapons program probably still exists in secret. Not that Carlson investigates things.
His Fox News show was appointment viewing in Russia, where reruns were featured on state-controlled TV. After Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Congress dressed in army fatigues, Carlson was unmoved by the mien of the brave leader of a nation under unprovoked attack: “As far as we know, no one’s ever addressed the United States Congress in a sweatshirt before.” In another monologue, Carlson spouted the vilest Russian propaganda: “Zelenskyy himself is a very dark force. … It is unmistakable. … This man is a destroyer.”
Just before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he famously accused Democrats of trying to gin up hatred of Putin, asking “(W)hat is this really about? ‘Why do I hate Putin so much?’ Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?”
Putin has, as Carlson knows full well, arrested more than 20,000 people for protesting the war. As for his cruel attack on Ukraine — for no reason other than Putin’s appetite — it has claimed the lives of half a million soldiers (two-thirds of them Russian) and at least 10,000 Ukrainian civilians. Russian forces have deliberately targeted power plants, hospitals and civilian apartments. Putin is a war criminal. The world knows this. Carlson knows it, too.
Carlson says he went to Moscow because he’s a journalist. He isn’t. He’s a tool. Putin has kidnapped and jailed two real Americans journalists: the Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich, who has been rotting in a Russian prison for 11 months, and Alsu Kurmasheva of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, who committed the crime of visiting her sick mother while being an American.
As of this writing, it seems Carlson got the interview he craved with Putin. Doubtless Trump will find it very interesting and urge his people to “take a look,” which will be the signal for the rest of the GOP to agree that we’ve really been getting only half of the story, haven’t we? And it’s really Biden, not Putin, and not certainly not Trump, who’s a threat to world peace.
What a catastrophic turn for a once great political party.
Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast. Her new book, “Hard Right: The GOP’s Drift Toward Extremism,” is available now.