Tucker Carlson’s strategy for the midterm elections has been clear for months. The Fox News host hopes to use demagoguery about crime and repugnant smears to help the Republican Party’s assortment of kooks, conmen, and conspiracy theorists over the finish line. But in case that fails, he’s recently started rolling out his backup plan: convincing his viewers that Democratic election victories are, by definition, the illegitimate fruits of fraud.
“The Democratic Party has such contempt for voters and for democracy itself, and so much confidence in its ownership of the media and of big tech, that it no longer has to try to win your votes,” Carlson alleged on Wednesday. He went on to lie about the health of Democrat John Fetterman and to suggest that if Fetterman wins his race for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, it will be the result of fraud, saying, “To prove it, they can even run mentally defective candidates who can barely speak. And not only expect them to ‘win,’ but expect you to accept the outcome no matter how transparently absurd it is.”
The Fox host then insinuated that President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory had been similarly invalid, saying, “On November 9, they'll be telling you that John Fetterman got 81 million votes in Pennsylvania, and they'll threaten you to put you in jail if you don't believe it. Why wouldn't they do that? It worked with Joe Biden.”
Carlson’s suggestion that his viewers should not “accept the outcome” of a Fetterman victory came just days after Rolling Stone reported that former President Donald Trump is “fixated on challenging the results of Pennsylvania’s Senate race, which he views — as one source puts it — as a ‘dress rehearsal for Trump 2024.’”
This is not the first time Carlson has stated that his audience should view a Democratic victory in a tight midterms race as fraudulent. He said last week that viewers could only have confidence in the Arizona gubernatorial race if the Republican wins.
“This is a democracy, we have an absolute right to have it proven to us that the election was fair. If it is fair, Kari Lake’s going to win,” Carlson said.
It is dangerous for Carlson to prime his viewers to treat Democratic wins as illegitimate. We’ve seen the dire consequences of such manipulations in the recent past.
Trump – with Fox’s eager participation – similarly stoked election fraud fears in the leadup to the 2020 election. And after he lost, he carried out his plan to undermine the results and seek to overturn them. That campaign of election subversion – aided and abetted by Fox – culminated in his supporters storming the U.S. Capitol in an effort to keep him in office on January 6, 2021.
Since then, the Republican Party and its Fox mouthpieces have institutionalized Trump’s lie that the election was stolen from him. GOP election deniers are running for office in droves – including QAnon-affiliated candidates for positions that oversee elections – while its voters purged many of those who stood against the conspiracy theories within the party. Veterans of Trump’s effort to overturn the election, like Steve Bannon, are recruiting poll workers who can gum up the electoral process. Right-wing activists, drunk on election conspiracy theories, are reportedly already intimidating voters at ballot drop boxes. And prominent figures like Carlson have used their platforms to downplay the violence of the January 6 insurrection and suggest that Trump’s supporters were correct that his election had been stolen.
Fox’s effort to back Trump’s coup failed. But the network’s most powerful host is now mobilizing his viewers to give election subversion another shot.