Tucker Carlson: Why is Kevin McCarthy so chummy with Frank Luntz?

This segment is a lot more fun if you give it the Tucker treatment by speculating darkly about sinister ulterior motives that might have inspired it. Take a few minutes to watch, then read on.

His shock and chagrin that McCarthy is friendly with a — gasp — lobbyist for establishment interests feels almost like a sly joke, given how common that is in Washington. (Big Tech companies like Google spread their political contributions around, of course, including to populist heroes like Jim Jordan.) But he’s right that it’d be unethical if McCarthy got a sweetheart deal from Luntz on his rent. A politician paying less than fair market value for a place owned by a lobbyist would be scarcely different than a bribe. On the other hand, it’s unclear from the segment how much actual lobbying Luntz is doing. And he and McCarthy do appear to be friends of long standing, which wouldn’t excuse a break on the rent but would make it less nakedly transactional.

McCarthy was asked about it this morning and spun it away as no big deal, stressing that he’s no longer renting Luntz’s place and nudging Tucker to be a team player by making nice with the pollster.

Here’s the question: Why now? Why has Tucker’s imagination suddenly been captured by the allegedly nefarious figure of Frank Luntz, a guy who’s been around Washington whispering to Republicans about how to persuade voters for upwards of 30 years? It’s especially strange to find a Fox News primetime program targeting him as a pernicious influence considering no media outlet has done more to promote him over the years than Fox itself. He’s been a regular guest for ages to discuss his focus-group findings, most recently last week on Bret Baier’s show. It’s not the scoop about McCarthy renting Luntz’s apartment that led him to this topic either, by his own account. Carlson did a segment a few days ago criticizing Luntz and only afterward received a tip about McCarthy and the apartment.

Now comes the part where we irresponsibly speculate about ulterior motives, Tucker-style. What if he’s only coming after Luntz as a way to damage McCarthy? Hmmmm:

ADDING TO THE INTRIGUE: Carlson noted that Luntz and McCarthy’s “Odd Couple” arrangement was not something he just stumbled upon on his own but was leaked to Fox by a knowledgeable unnamed source. Hmm.

To summarize: The star of Republicans’ network of choice is being fed oppo about and is denouncing the man who wants to be speaker of the House. Not good for McCarthy, who, if the GOP takes back the House, will need 218 votes to secure the gavel. Remember what happened last time he went for it.

MAGA has a grudge against McCarthy, first for criticizing Trump’s actions before and during the insurrection in his floor speech prior to the impeachment vote on January 13 and later for standing up for Liz Cheney when the Trumpists in the House caucus tried to oust her from leadership in February. McCarthy has tried to insinuate his way back into Trump’s good graces since then, visiting him at Mar-a-Lago and pointedly refusing to appear with Cheney in public, but maybe that hasn’t been enough to make amends. Luntz has also been critical of Trump about the insurrection, which I’m sure hasn’t escaped the former president’s attention. Maybe Trump himself or some ally has been encouraging Carlson to throw a little high heat at McCarthy, particularly with another showdown coming up in the House over whether to keep Cheney in leadership. One easy way to do that is to present him to Carlson’s populist audience as a tool of Big Tech, literal roommates with a Google lobbyist whom they know and already despise as a font of Beltway conventional wisdom. Luntz is just a cudgel with which to give McCarthy a bloody nose per this theory.

There’s another possibility. A friend suggested to me last night that this might be the reason Carlson is miffed at Luntz:

Tucker is always eager to remind viewers that he’s not anti-vaccine but he’s had vaccine truther Alex Berenson on his show and devotes much of his commentary to just-asking-questions monologues about safety when any number of knowledgeable experts would doubtless be willing to come on and address his concerns before his huge audience. On a basic, basic level, the national vaccine effort is an affront to right-wing populism because it requires entrusting one’s health to the dreaded expert class, a group composed mainly of liberals. And Frank Luntz is part of that effort. He’s been holding focus groups aimed at figuring out what sort of appeals are more and less effective to people who are open to getting vaccinated but haven’t been convinced yet. He’s out with new results just today, in fact:

The series has run long enough that four Trump voters who joined Luntz’s first focus group in March, saying they weren’t planning to get vaccinated, rejoined a session on Thursday to talk about their change of heart. All credited Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under the Obama administration, for helping boost their understanding of the shots.

The moment of conversion was “when I did the last focus group with you, and you had the doctor from the CDC on,” said a woman identified as Marie from New York. “He explained it much better than [Dr. Anthony] Fauci, or any of them ever did.”…

Luntz’s efforts to boost vaccine uptake drew fire Friday from Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who said that Luntz should disclose that he’s done work for vaccine manufacturer Pfizer.

Whatever Carlson’s personal views about the vaccine are, he knows that a sizable segment of his populist audience in red-state America is anti-vax. He also knows that Frank Luntz is working alongside the Faucis and Walenskys in the federal government to try to increase vaccine uptake. That makes Luntz a natural object of suspicion, replete with aspersions about him having some sort of financial interest to push the vaccine. And a hallmark of American politics in 2021 (especially populist politics) is that suspicious actors are more intertwined with government and big business than you, the common man, even realize. Frank Luntz the pro-vax focus-grouper turns out to also be Frank Luntz the buddy of squishy RINO House leader Kevin McCarthy, telling him God knows what behind the scenes to make Republican policies more establishment-friendly.

Why, who knows if there isn’t a Luntz/Google/Pfizer/Fauci/McCarthy conspiracy at the heart of all this?

Lefty Jonathan Chait argued a few days ago that one reason Carlson went on a tear about needless masking last week is that some populists are actually nervous about seeing the pandemic end. “The pandemic was first a hoax by deep-state authorities to undermine Donald Trump’s reelection, and then it became an excuse to impose purposeless public-health restrictions,” he wrote. “Throughout these two (mutually exclusive) phases of denial, disbelieving the medical threat was a way to order their social identities.” Once you’ve reordered your social identity around something, it’s not easy to un-order it. That goes both ways, though: Hypercautious liberals have also done lots of social reordering, to the point that they’re clinging to their masks and distancing beyond even what the CDC recommends in order to signal their virtue. For the members of both parties who live to wage culture war, watching a major cause of social conflict fade away must be distressing.