Right-wing media have propelled states across the country to consider a historic slate of anti-trans bills, particularly aimed at health care for trans youth and trans athletes participating in sports. But when two Republican governors with histories of anti-trans positions vetoed some of the most extreme bills, right-wing media outlets turned their ire on those politicians for not falling in line.
This year has seen a record-breaking number of anti-trans bills introduced in the United States, with at least 33 states considering measures and governors signing into law anti-trans legislation in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. In Arkansas, however, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed one bill criminalizing best practice health care for trans youth (the legislature overturned his veto), and in South Dakota, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem vetoed a bill barring trans athletes from competing before banning them through an executive order.
The same right-wing figures who have propped up leaders like Noem and Hutchinson, including by celebrating their opposition to trans rights, have now put them in their crosshairs for not taking the most extreme anti-trans positions. They are accusing the governors of “caving to woke corporations,” calling them cowards, and even saying that they have ruined their political careers. At the same time, the right has accused the left of following a so-called “transgender orthodoxy” for asking that trans people be treated equally as humans.
This right-wing backlash to Republican leaders demonstrates that anti-trans bills aren’t just dangerous for kids and families, or just bad for business; they are a losing political battle that may end up destroying those on the right who have sought to capitalize on them.
Right-wing media figures attack Noem and Hutchinson
On March 31, Hutchinson appeared with host Rachel Campos-Duffy on Fox News Primetime to discuss his passage of the state’s anti-trans athlete bill. Campos-Duffy thanked him several times and said women “are rooting for you, thanking you.”
On March 8, when Noem tweeted that she was “excited” to sign the athlete bill that she would later veto, right-wing leaders and media figures said she was “leading the way” and applauded and thanked her. Noem had been discussed as a potential presidential candidate; appeared on Fox News weekday programming 35 times since last March, when the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S.; and spoken at last year’s Republican National Convention.
But it would only be days before the same apparatus that has helped build up these officials would turn on them, potentially uprooting their political and other aspirations as right-wing media and the Republican Party increasingly take a hard line against trans people.
On March 22, just days after Noem vetoed the bill banning trans athletes (and before she implemented a ban via executive order), Tucker Carlson hosted her on his show in a contentious interview in which he asked her, “So you are caving to the NCAA? I think that’s what you are saying?”
Carlson brought up her interview during the following two episodes of his show. In one, he suggested that Noem was a “nice person” who had caved to business interests, saying, “When things get really crazy, and really ominous, when things start to kind of fall apart a little bit, what you believe doesn’t really matter. What matters is your toughness, your willingness to stand up in the face of opposition and hold form. Your courage. And we’re always on the lookout for politicians who have it. There are not many.”
The following night, he hosted lawyer Kristen Waggoner from the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom and said of Noem, “She got bullied by business interests and she caved at a time when we need leaders who are courageous — and she’s not.” In a previous statement, Waggoner had said that Noem “pandered to the demands of special interests,” abused her power, and betrayed her state, continuing, “We are shocked that a governor who claims to be a firebrand conservative with a rising national profile would cave to ‘woke’ corporate ideology.”
Anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council wrote that this was a “defining moment” in Noem’s political career and could be “all she’ll be remembered for,” adding that “others, like American Principles Project Terry Schilling, made it clear that Noem had just thrown away her chances for a spot on the big stage.” (American Principles Project is an anti-LGBTQ group that has sought to make attacking trans people a more popular political strategy on the right.)
Hutchinson faced a similar path on Carlson's show, where he appeared on April 6. That was the same day that Arkansas became the first state in the country to ban best practice medical care for transgender youth -- despite Hutchinson’s veto -- in a move trans rights advocates have called “the single most extreme anti-trans law to ever pass through a state legislature.”
During the 10-minute segment, which was rife with misinformation about lifesaving health care, Carlson said to Hutchinson, “I think of you as a conservative; here you’ve come out publicly as pro-choice on the question of chemical castration of children. What changed?” He repeatedly suggested that Hutchinson had not studied the topic (Carlson himself has admitted that he has “very little idea of what it means, medically,” to be trans) and questioned whether he had “spoken to any corporate interests in the state of Arkansas about this bill.” When Hutchinson said he had not, Carlson said he was “skeptical.”
Following a familiar pattern, Carlson brought up that interview the following day on his show, again repeating that “there are a lot of things [Hutchinson] didn’t seem to know.” More strikingly, Carlson accused Hutchinson of “lying” about not hearing from corporations like Walmart in Arkansas in order to potentially land a lucrative board seat after his term ends in 2022.
A piece in The Federalist commented on Hutchinson’s appearance, saying his “response was an embarrassing disaster, and if he weren’t already barred by term limits from seeking reelection in 2022, his political career would likely be finished.” It also called him “a worthless GOP leader,” concluding, “We have no use for leaders like him.” A similar piece in The Spectator said that Hutchinson was one of “too many in our elite and political class” who “are often filled with arrogance and disdain for those they rule over.”
And on April 12, Fox’s Laura Ingraham also castigated Hutchinson: “We need to send a message to Republicans who go along with woke capitalism while mouthing principles about small government. I’m looking at you, Liz Cheney and Asa Hutchinson and Mitt Romney. You know who you are. Not only do they just look like morons at this point. They’re aiding and abetting the dangerous agenda of big business and the hard left.”
Right-wing media are the real keepers of an extreme “transgender orthodoxy”
Right-wing media figures have consistently responded to criticism of their dehumanization of trans people by saying that liberals enforce a “trans orthodoxy” that somehow silences and takes away the rights of conservatives. But the real trans orthodoxy has been created by the right, which refuses to acknowledge the actual science about and lived experiences of the transgender community — all while forcing its own to blindly follow its anti-trans agenda, despite the massive harms it is doing to young people.
The fall of Noem and Hutchinson is clear evidence that the right’s extremism on transgender issues has never been more dangerous. The right-wing media ecosystem has driven the introduction of anti-trans policy at the state and federal level, propped those harmful policies up through obsessive coverage, and worked to silence any dissent -- even if that means destroying their own.