For Tucker Carlson, interviews with his detractors have become something of an art form, if that art form consists in churning out the same predictable and petty performance of contention night after night.
In Noah Rothman, Tucker found his perfect foil: an “establishment” conservative writer who objected to Carlson’s Monday night rant playing defense for the Assad regime in Syria. It was a segment perfectly crafted to provoke condemnation and create Tucker’s next guest out of some willing protestor. But Carlson also found his match in Rothman, who happened to be far better versed in Syria policy than the Fox News pundit.
It was almost a microcosm in the fight for the Republican party of the Trump era: Tucker, a St. George’s prep school alum who somehow wields the mantle of populism, works on emotion and a strong appeal to Trump’s fans on the nationalist front. And Rothman, a verbose but thorough scribe for John Podhoretz’s Commentary magazine (and Mediaite alum), who often appears on Morning Joe and has been left behind by the Trumpism that pervades the GOP.
Tucker did his best to contest a few of Rothman’s points, but ultimately reverted to the place he’s comfortable those rare times he is intellectually outmatched on his show: ad hominem attacks and insults to throw his interviewee off-guard. Typically, if he’s lucky, the tactic elicits a stutter or provokes anger. The host’s next move, to complete the one-two punch, is to sneer and laugh in the face of his guest.
He was unable to draw that out of a remarkably unflappable Rothman. And as a result, the insults got more petty, and the arguments got strange. Here were the best:
1. “I don’t want to be mean to you, and I know you’re new to this.”
The crux of the pair’s disagreement came down Carlson’s point that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said that the U.S. did not have concrete evidence that the Syrian regime used sarin gas in a chemical attack in April 2017. As Rothman patiently explained to Carlson, Mattis’s comment — which is often mischaracterized — acknowledged that while groups on the ground had evidence backing up that assertion, the Pentagon itself could not substantiate it definitively.
“I don’t want to be mean to you, and I know you’re new to this,” Tucker replied, before reiterating the same argument and accusing Rothman of calling Mattis an “agent of Putin.”
2. “Nobody is contesting the nature of the attack, that’s immaterial. We can determine what the chemical was. The question is who launched it.”
This one is a particularly odd about-face from Carlson — given that 60 seconds earlier, the entire thrust of his argument was that Mattis cannot conclude the use of sarin gas or chlorine in the 2017 attack.
3. “Who did it is the question. The U.S. government has not definitively determined that. That’s all I said on Monday.”
Actually, Carlson said a lot on Monday, including but not limited to:
— “Assad is a monster. That’s the official story — almost everyone in power claims to believe it.”
— “All the geniuses tell us that Assad killed those children. But do they really know that? Of course, they don’t really know that, they’re making it up.”
— “How would it benefit Assad, from using chlorine gas last weekend?”
— “The story, it turns out, was propaganda, it was designed to manipulate Americans, just like so much of what they say.”
4. “I am not here to defend — and I hardly would have to say this with a rational person — the regime of Assad.”
Just a delightful ad hominem, that’s all.
5. “Please don’t speak about the American political class as if you are outside it. You are clearly acting as a tool on behalf of people who want the U.S. to proceed with war.”
Yep, you heard that right. Tucker Carlson, a man who wore a bow-tie from age 14 to 36, spends his days working on a high-profile Fox News show sneered at his guest for being a part of the political class.
6. And lastly, let’s conclude with this exchange between the two (woefully mismatched) sparring partners:
Tucker: If you want to have an adult conversation about adult issues, wouldn’t you agree that it’s helpful not to call names but to engage with the actual questions. Not to dismiss people.
Rothman: It is, that’s why I did not call you names. And I did not dismiss you I answered your questions directly.
Tucker: Self-awareness not your strong suit, but I appreciate you coming on tonight.
Rothman: Thank you for having me.
*Tucker moves on to his next guest, Nigel Farage*
Watch above, via Fox News.
[image via screengrab]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.