“At this point, NATO exists primarily to torment Vladimir Putin,” Carlson said, “who, whatever his many faults, has no intention of invading Western Europe. Vladimir Putin does not want Belgium. He just wants to keep his western border secure.” He insisted that Putin just wanted to secure Russia’s naval base on the Crimean peninsula, which, of course, was already secure from Russia’s 2014 incursion into Ukraine.
He suggested that concerns about Russia were a function of lobbying from Ukrainian actors and a “hangover” from spending four years on the “Russia hoax” — Donald Trump’s description of the investigation into Russia’s very real efforts to influence the 2016 election.
At one point, Carlson showed a clip of a State Department official saying that a violation of “Ukraine’s territorial integrity” would prompt the United States and its allies to “act resolutely.”
Carlson scoffed. “Such children!” he replied, disparaging the idea that the concern was Ukraine’s integrity. He then mocked Victoria Nuland, an administration official who had briefed senators on the situation the day prior.
“No serious person could take Victoria Nuland seriously. She’s a joke,” he continued. Nuland, he said, was “obviously unimpressive as a person” and “not especially pro-American.”
All of this is worth revisiting because of Carlson’s show on Thursday night. It was different from his broadcast in December in part because there is obviously no longer any reason not to question Putin’s motives. It was similar to the December show in that Carlson picked out a woman working for the Biden administration to mock and blame.
On Thursday, it was Vice President Harris. Her job, Carlson said, was “to trot down to the Blue Room periodically to greet delegations of TikTok influencers.” He suggested that his dismissal of the threat of invasion was spurred by the fact that Harris had been dispatched to the Munich Security Conference in mid-February as the conflict loomed.
“We assumed that if things were dire, serious people would be involved in fixing them,” Carlson said. “But we looked up, and we saw Kamala Harris involved, and that reassured us.”
This is unmitigated garbage for a number of reasons.
The first, obviously, is that he — a longtime television talking head — was disparaging the intellect and capabilities of a former district attorney, elected senator and sitting vice president of the United States. In part, this disparagement was based on a handful of occasions in which Harris tripped over public remarks, unintentionally reinforcing Carlson’s measure of intellect and competence: being able to speak well on television. It’s like a minor league middle relief pitcher mocking a cardiologist’s first pitch.
“And perhaps this is a moment, as life does present us with those moments, that challenge us to ask what is our reason for being. And I think we all know the history of NATO and its reason for being. The spirit behind this term we use, ‘the transatlantic community.’ The word ‘community,’ meaning a collection, not — a collection of individuals who see themselves as a collection than as one. And that’s where we are now.
Awkward, yes. But if you’ve never transcribed yourself speaking off the cuff, I recommend doing so. It’s humbling.
Carlson could also have quoted from more coherent parts of Harris’s lengthy remarks. After all, that’s not all she said. She also said:
“Europe has enjoyed unprecedented peace, security, and prosperity through a commitment to a set of defining principles. The United States is equally committed to these principles: that people have a right to choose their own form of government; that nations have a right to choose their own alliances; that there are inalienable rights which governments must protect; that the rule of law should be cherished; that sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states must be respected; and that national borders should not be changed by force. We are here in Munich, together, to reaffirm our commitment to these principles.”
But he didn’t quote that, because he wanted to mock Harris as unserious. He wanted to suggest that she was a joke, as he had Nuland: someone unworthy of respect in part because she was a woman. How else do you explain this riff?
“The key to good management is matching the person with the job. Not everybody’s good at everything,” Carlson said about Harris. “So if you’re looking for someone to date Montel Williams, well, maybe she’s the person you would choose. She could be a solid choice for that. She’s done it before. … But this new gig? De-escalating a world-ending conflict with a nuclear-armed rogue state? No.”
This, of course, is how Carlson works. Just this barrage of insults and innuendo and you’re-with-me-here-right winks at his audience. Safely reading from his teleprompter, he waves away the vice president’s qualifications because she dated a celebrity.
But remember why he was doing that on Thursday: so that he could blame Harris and the administration for his fawning endorsement of the Russian president’s geopolitics. That’s the second reason his attack on Harris was garbage: He was dutifully lugging Putin’s water around television boxes well before Harris even went to Munich.
Repeatedly. In mid-January, for example, he asked why Russia was “so upset,” again blaming everyone but Putin: instead it was because “the United States government has pushed Ukraine to join NATO.” Never mind that there was no significant recent push and never mind that, even by then, a huge number of troops were already sitting just outside Ukraine’s borders. Carlson suggested that it was his enemies in the mainstream media and the Democratic administration that were pushing for war.
Or consider his riff from a few days before the invasion began.
“Since the day that Donald Trump became president, Democrats in Washington have told you you have a patriotic duty to hate Vladimir Putin. It’s not a suggestion, it’s a mandate. Anything less than hatred for Putin is treason,” he said. “Many Americans have obeyed this directive. They now dutifully hate Vladimir Putin.”
“Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? Has he shipped every middle-class job in my town to Russia? Did he manufacture a worldwide pandemic that wrecked my business and kept me indoors for two years?” he continued. “Is he teaching my children to embrace racial discrimination? Is he making fentanyl? Is he trying to snuff out Christianity? Does he eat dogs? These are fair questions, and the answer to all of them is ‘no.’ ”
Those are not fair questions, of course; they’re stupid, contrived ones. But more to the point, this is not an argument that Harris’s role in a security conference signals that everything’s invented. This is an attempt to defend Putin even as alarm bells were blaring across the globe.
Carlson did admit he’d erred at one point in his Thursday show, however.
“We’ve been taken by surprise, by the whole thing,” he said. “We’re not the only ones who were, but we’re willing to admit it. The only thing more embarrassing than being wrong in your estimates is pretending that you weren’t.”
I would argue that more embarrassing still is trying to convince your audience that your knee-jerk opposition to the U.S. government in service to a violent authoritarian was the vice president’s fault because, you know, she’s just some lightweight dame.