Tucker Carlson’s Arizona face-plant
Carlson was working his way through stages of grief about his candidates losing – before he disappeared entirely on Monday
Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s favorite candidates have been shut out in Arizona. After days of counting – which Carlson insinuated could indicate fraud – news outlets, including Fox, project that Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) won reelection over venture capital executive Blake Masters, while the state’s Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs defeated former newscaster Kari Lake for the governor’s seat.
Carlson is a powerful GOP player who helps set the party’s strategy and choose its candidates. But the Arizona results are a case study in how his influence hurt the Republican effort in midterm elections – he is a weirdo and the candidates he likes best tend to share his bizarre fixations, which alienates voters.
Arizona’s races were very winnable for the state’s Republicans. In 2020, President Joe Biden won the state by 10,457 votes, the smallest vote margin of the cycle, while Kelly was narrowly elected to the U.S. Senate over then-Sen. Martha McSally, with just over 51%. With Kelly running for reelection in a more challenging midterms environment, Republicans should have had a good opportunity to take back the seat while holding the governorship, where Republicans Gov. Doug Ducey, who won by 14 points in 2018, was term-limited.
But Arizona’s Republican primary electorate demanded Carlson-style candidates, and they got them. The Fox host’s endorsement helped secure the nomination for Masters, the 35-year-old protege of fascist tech billionaire Peter Thiel. Masters went on to run a terminally online campaign against Kelly heavy on Fox-friendly culture war salvoes. And Carlson fawned over Lake, an election-denier with ties to Nazi sympathizers and QAnon figures who campaigned against “monsters” in the press and promised journalists on Election Day to be “your worst fricking nightmare.” Each received both fulsome praise and regular airtime on Carlson’s show – Masters was even the beneficiary of a hagiographic Carlson documentary days before Election Day.
Lake and Masters’ schtick may have been attractive for Carlson and the Republican primary voters he influences, but in the general election, the state chose more normal people.
Carlson assured his viewers before the election that an Arizona annihilation would be part of the “humiliating repudiation” he predicted for Democrats – and that only election fraud could explain a different result. “If [the election] is fair, Kari Lake’s going to win,” he alleged on October 20. “It looks like Blake Masters is going to win,” he claimed on October 26. But Carlson dramatically misjudged the electorate’s support for a candidate like himself – their opponents, Hobbs and Kelly, took leads on election night and never relinquished them.
The Fox host responded by predicting eventual victory, then sowing doubt and distrust about the legitimacy of the election results as their odds of winning dissipated. He was on vacation on Monday, so we will have to wait for his return to assess which stage of grief he has made it to.
Wednesday, November 9: Denial
Carlson lashed out at Republican leaders when the promised “red tsunami” failed to materialize. But before he even started pointing fingers the night after Election Day, he assured his viewers of a silver lining in the Copper State.
“At this point, it seems likely that both Kari Lake and Blake Masters will win,” he said, as on-screen text stressed the same point.
Carlson then pivoted to criticizing Arizona election officials for the timetable they said would be necessary to finish counting the votes.
Later in the program, Carlson brought on Lake for an interview. “Where do you think you are in this?” he asked. “Well, I feel a hundred percent certain I'm going to win. The question is how big will that win be?” she replied.
That was not the question.
Thursday, November 10: Anger
For the second night in a row, Carlson opened his show by talking about the Arizona races. But this time he did not offer confidence that his candidates had triumphed, and instead lashed out at Arizona election officials for failing to report the results swiftly enough for him.
Carlson described Arizona’s tally as “beneath Third World,” insinuated that the similar delay in vote-counting in 2018 covered up fraud that led to McSally’s defeat, and called the failure to report the result on election night “an actual attack on democracy.”
Carlson returned to the subject later in the program. “Arizona election officials continue to claim updated vote totals any minute. They're obviously not embarrassed by how long this is taking tonight. They should be ashamed,” he claimed.
After airing a clip of Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chairman Bill Gates calling the count, “very standard,” Carlson ranted: “Where's the groveling? Where's the ‘I'm sorry, I can't believe I screwed up your democracy,’ which we all pretend to care so much about? We can't even count the votes on time. Despite the fact your county has a four and a half billion dollar annual budget, but we can't count votes.”
Carlson concluded by complaining about someone else’s lack of contrition: “Why don't you apologize? Let's start there. They never will, ever.”
Carlson then brought on Arizona political consultant Constantin Querard, a Republican, who argued that “Kari Lake is in a very strong position right now” and that state Republicans are “still pretty optimistic about Masters' chances.” But Carlson, unassuaged, pivoted back to the counting.
“If this were happening in Guinea Bissau, I can promise you the U.S. State Department would say this election is questionable. They would,” he said. “But it's not Guinea Bissau, it is Arizona.”
Friday, November 11: Bargaining and depression
Yet again, Carlson started his show with the ongoing Arizona vote count, which he portrayed as inexplicably difficult to comprehend and perhaps illegitimate.
“There is still drama, confusion, really chaos in the state of Arizona tonight, stemming from Tuesday's elections,” he said. “How are the officials in charge of this ‘election’ responding? It's hard to know from afar.”
Carlson brought on Lake, who remained confident about the results, saying, “We're less than a point away from our opponent. And we think it's going to start turning and turning quickly, and we believe we're going to win … with a nice padding actually.”
But the Fox host had already turned to trying to delegitimize the election. “So your opponent is the secretary of state,” he said. “She didn't campaign much and she didn't seem like she needed to campaign a lot. She never debated you. And some are smirking online that well, of course, she was always confident in her victory. What's your view of that very common take on the race?”
Carlson went on to complain that Hobbs had failed to “recuse herself for appearance sake,” and suggested big changes were necessary to restore faith in elections. “My view is: eliminate absentee ballots, except for you know, the tiny percentage who really need them,” he said. “This is crazy. And it really is hurting people's view of democracy.”
Carlson then turned to the Senate election. “Blake Masters is running in the other big race in the State of Arizona, which like the Governor's race is still nowhere near being settled. Masters says he can still win his race,” he said.
He then introduced Masters to provide what on-screen text described as his “path to victory.” This involved a dubious claim that some Maricopa County ballots might have been counted twice and a lot of bleating about Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell failing to provide his campaign with enough support.
Roughly two hours later, Fox’s Decision Desk called the race for Kelly.