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Tucker Carlson Turns a Christian Presidential Forum into a Putin Showcase

Tucker Carlson Turns a Christian Presidential Forum into a Putin Showcase

Bob Vander Plaats, the conservative evangelical kingmaker in Iowa politics, now knows what happens when you turn over your Republican presidential showcase to Tucker Carlson.

Jesus is out. Vladimir V. Putin is in.

Mr. Carlson was given the task of interviewing six Republican presidential hopefuls at the Family Leadership conference in Des Moines on Friday. Consequently, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine became the dominant issue of debate, on a day when Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa used the event to sign a near-total abortion ban into law.

In the hands of Mr. Carlson, the former Fox News host who was recently fired, Ukraine became the bad actor in the conflict, not Russia.

The most heated exchange came when Mr. Carlson interviewed former Vice President Mike Pence before a packed auditorium in Des Moines’ convention center. Mr. Pence was berating the Biden administration for being too slow to provide advanced weaponry to Ukraine.

“We promised them 33 Abrams tanks in January. I heard again two weeks ago in Ukraine, they still don’t have them,” Mr. Pence said. “We’ve been telling them we’ll train their F-16 pilots, but now they’re saying maybe January.”

Mr. Carlson interjected, to the delight of much of the audience. “Wait, I know you’re running for president, but you are distressed that Ukrainians don’t have enough American tanks?” he asked, in his trademark confrontational style.

For good measure, Mr. Carlson called Ukraine an American “client state,” accused Ukraine’s Jewish leader, Volodymyr Zelensky, of persecuting Christians and strongly indicated Mr. Pence had been conned, despite evidence to the contrary.

Mr. Pence was not alone. Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina, argued that by degrading Russia’s military, American aid to Ukraine was making the United States stronger and more secure.

Mr. Carlson responded with a signature dismissive response.

“The total body count from Russia in the United States is right around zero; I don’t know anyone who’s been killed by Russia,” Mr. Carlson said. “I know people personally who have been killed by Mexico,” he said, adding, “Why is Mexico less of a threat than Russia?”

It didn’t go any better for his first target, Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, who led border security under former President George W. Bush, who found himself making the case to Mr. Carlson that bombing Mexican drug cartels might be problematic since it would be an act of war against a friendly neighboring state.

The divide in the Republican Party between traditional conservatives who favor the projection of American military might and a new, more isolationist wing that leans toward Russia is nothing new. But the Family Leadership Summit was supposed to be a showcase of Christian values, where social issues like abortion and transgender rights were expected to be center stage.

But by making Mr. Carlson something of a master of ceremonies, Mr. Vander Plaats, the president of The Family Leader, which hosted the summit, dealt the crowd a wild card. By the time the spotlight turned to Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, Eric Teetsel, vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation, praised her as “still willing to come up onstage” after the preceding appearances.

Mr. Pence had his laments after his appearance. “I regret that we didn’t have very much time during my time onstage to talk about the progress for life or issues impacting the family,” he said, before adding, “I’m really never surprised by Tucker Carlson.”


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