Tucker Carlson’s economic populism is a fraud. His coverage of Amy Coney Barrett proves it.


Citation Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

It was a brazen lie, even by Tucker Carlson’s standards. Following the first day of confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, the Fox News host on Monday pushed back against concerns from Senate Democrats by falsely claiming, “There is no case currently pending anywhere in this country before any court in America that would eliminate Obamacare.” 

That might prove a surprise to the Republican attorneys general who are seeking the repeal of the landmark health law through California v Texas; the Trump Justice Department, which joined their case, arguing that the law “should not be allowed to remain in effect”; and the current justices on the Supreme Court, who are scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on November 10, well after Republicans plan to vote to confirm Barrett. The judge has been critical of past Supreme Court rulings finding the Affordable Care Act constitutional, and whether or not she ultimately supports the Republican attorneys general challenging it, the law is clearly “at risk,” contra Carlson.   

Carlson is lying in order to downplay the danger Barrett’s confirmation poses to the health of tens of millions of Americans, who risk losing their insurance coverage in the middle of a pandemic if the court eliminates the ACA. The Fox star’s Monday performance is consistent with his weekslong effort to hide from his audience the potential economic consequences that Barrett’s confirmation poses for their lives.

Carlson brands himself as a populist willing to buck the Republican Party’s pro-corporate consensus. But his use of “class war” rhetoric rarely has anything to do with economic policies that actually affect the nation’s crushing disparities of wealth and power. Carlson inevitably aligns with the GOP because while he sneers at the “ruling class,” what actually defines that group for him isn’t its members’ income or power -- it’s that they don’t share his fringe culture war views. That’s why the same rich people the party exists to serve happily prop up his show.

The Fox host’s treatment of Barrett shows how his adherence to culture war narratives trumps his rhetorical flourishes about the class war. Barrett, in her brief tenure as a federal judge, has regularly sided with corporate power rather than enforcing protections for workers and consumers. But Carlson seems entirely uninterested in how her confirmation could affect the country, instead engaging with her nomination through his culture war lens. That makes him a willing participant in the decades-old Republican strategy of keeping the unpopular policy results of its judicial philosophy under wraps. 

Over the past few weeks, Carlson’s viewers have heard him praise the judge as “the finest person I've ever seen under discussion for this job,” a “sterling role model,” an “outstanding person,” and as “maybe the most impressive person to receive a Supreme Court nomination in memory.” They’ve watched him praise her character and her credentials and her family. They’ve listened as he decried Democratic senators for criticizing the timing of her nomination and the haste with which Republicans want to ram her through and for suggesting they might respond by expanding the court under a potential Joe Biden presidency. They’ve repeatedly been told that Democrats and the press have attacked her faith and that “they despise her” and want to “destroy her personally” because she “represents everything that made this a great country.”

What Carlson avoids talking about is the impact of her confirmation; he argues that “if you want to change the country, we have a legislative branch for that” instead. Republicans often use this sort of obviously nonsensical platitude to conceal their radical judicial agenda from voters. But Trump, his Senate Republican allies, and the conservative movement are eager to confirm Barrett before the election because the Supreme Court regularly throws out and reinterprets statutes in ways that do change the country. 

So Carlson has provided almost no discussion whatsoever about what Barrett’s confirmation would mean for the country -- and none at all about the impact she might have on the disparities of economic wealth and power he occasionally deplores. Before Monday’s Obamacare lie, the closest he’s come is acknowledging that Barrett joining the Court could lead to the repeal of Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion. While abortion access is an economic issue, Carlson doesn’t treat it that way, instead simply sneering at the idea that the ruling “makes sense as an actual Supreme Court decision.”

But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Charles Koch’s Americans for Prosperity group aren’t lobbying for Barrett’s confirmation because they care about her position on Roe. They’ve done so because they know that she can solidify a right-wing pro-big business bloc on a court for decades. By replacing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was relatively skeptical of corporate power, with Barrett, who has regularly ruled in favor of its agenda, they enshrine a 6-3 majority of Republican appointees on a court that has already proven a steady partner to corporate interests. 

Barrett’s potential impact on the economic issues Carlson pretends to care about wouldn't stop at the Affordable Care Act. Her work as a corporate lawyer included defending a Pittsburgh steel magnate who was accused of helping to drive a major hospital system into bankruptcy. As a judge, her record on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals shows she sided with corporations 76% of the time, according to the anti-corruption nonprofit Accountable.US. Her rulings on worker’s rights and consumer rights suggest she would be a reliable vote for big business on the Supreme Court. 

That matters, because another pro-corporate conservative on the Supreme Court could lead to the gutting of a wide range of federal regulations that impact everything from union organizing to financial consumer protections to climate change, stymie efforts to enforce antitrust laws, and more. A 6-3 conservative court might trigger the return of the jurisprudence of the Gilded Age, when activist judges drunk on free market ideology shredded laws that infringed on corporate power.

All of that would impact the lives of Carlson’s audience. But he’d rather hide that information from them or lie outright so he can treat Barrett’s nomination as just another culture war skirmish.