Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity have, by some distance, the most successful cable news shows in the country. In June, Carlson broke Hannity’s record for the highest rated quarter in a cable news program ever.
Do you smell competition? The two have ideological differences as well as different shows. Carlson represents what might be called the ‘populist’ right. He’s willing to intervene in markets to defend the national interest, unwilling to go to war over abstract ideals, critical of the excesses of mass migration and prepared to call out failings of Trump and the Republicans.
Hannity is more of a Reagan-Bush Republican: optimistic about the blessings of liberal capitalism and the power and munificence of America, yet enthusiastic in his support for Trump.
Subtle jabs have been traded before. When Carlson roasted John Bolton over his militarism, Hannity snuck in to point out, rather awkwardly, that ‘times were different after 9/11’. A chuckling Carlson declared, ‘He’s the worst!’
Hannity is a fighter. (Literally. If you watch his show you might have heard him talk about his martial arts training once, twice or a thousand times.) As Carlson handed over to him on Tuesday night, Hannity chose to comment on his fellow Fox host’s closing segment, in which he had decried how Jeff Bezos had become billions of dollars richer while other Americans have lost their jobs and businesses. ‘People can make money,’ Hannity shrugged:
‘…they provide goods and services people want, need, and desire? That’s America. It’s called freedom, capitalism, and as long as it’s honest, right? People decide.’
Carlson’s expression curdled from a smile into a frown.
Tucker Carlson ended his show by criticizing the fact that Jeff Bezos has gotten richer during the pandemic.
Hands off to Sean Hannity who refutes him. pic.twitter.com/bspPD3Y5dF
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) July 22, 2020
Hannity has rushed to Twitter to insist that what looked like an attack on Carlson was the result of a misunderstanding. ‘I was reiterating Tucker’s point on NOT being versus capitalism,’ he insisted. ‘I was in the chair one minute before airtime and I was specifically responding to the end of Tucker’s interview when he said he supported honest capitalism, I had not heard any of the other part of the interview.’
Nonetheless, Hannity apologized to Carlson for the misunderstanding, writing:
‘I apologize for any misunderstanding to Tucker and the Fox audience. I support freedom and capitalism. Not people taking advantage of a pandemic. If I see such evidence I will obviously condemn it.’
It seems implausible that Hannity misunderstood Carlson in this manner given that the final moments of Tucker Carlson Tonight were not devoted to a defense of ‘honest capitalism’, but it is possible that Hannity was only half-listening as he thought about landing a devastating blow on his training partner. Can any of us claim to have never ignored a colleague and blurted out something irrelevant to what they were saying? I thought not.
Regardless, the exchange illustrates the fault lines on the American right. Doubtless, nobody would disagree with Hannity that it is not especially surprising that e-commerce websites have done well while people are stuck at home and stores are closed. But more conservatives are unwilling to accept the endless growth of tech giants and the decline of small businesses, and are asking questions about tax and antitrust.
As for Carlson and Hannity, well, Cockburn hopes that they can work it out. Perhaps Tucker should start hitting the pads, though, just in case it comes to a good ol’ fashioned charity cage fight.