Infighting, not Fox, is the most serious problem that conservatism faces
The resignation of two contributors, citing a Tucker Carlson special, leaves fewer hands on deck when more are needed
Two prominent conservatives resigned as Fox News contributors on Sunday, saying that “the voices of the responsible are being drowned out by the irresponsible” at the No. 1 cable news network.
Writing on the website of their conservative media company, Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes singled out Fox personality Tucker Carlson and a series he hosted on the network’s streaming service, Fox Nation. They called “Patriot Purge” an example of “incoherent conspiracy-mongering” and said it’s part of a trend at Fox.
The news provided free publicity for Fox, as well as for The Dispatch, the digital media company founded by Goldberg and Hayes in 2019. And a Fox insider told me the men’s contracts were not going to be renewed in 2022.
But it’s perfectly reasonable to believe that Goldberg and Hayes were simply motivated by principle. Both are Never Trumpers who have often been at odds with Fox personalities during the 12 years they were paid contributors for the network. In one exchange in January of 2016, for example, Hayes, then with The Weekly Standard, heatedly sparred with Sean Hannity over Donald Trump’s electability.
Trump, to be sure, is the root cause of this particular breakup, for all the finger-pointing at Carlson. He’s the kudzu that coils around every GOP policy debate, even 10 months after leaving the White House.
But conservatism has enough challenges facing it, without the self-inflicted mortal injury that would be a Never-Fox movement. That’s because Goldberg and Hayes can’t turn their back on Fox News without turning their back on Fox viewers, a large and loyal swath of conservative America.
There is a real and significant difference between conservatives who are loyal Fox News viewers and those who are not, as shown in 2020 research by the Public Religion Research Institute. Fox News viewers are more likely to approve of Donald Trump than non-Fox viewers and significantly less likely (3%) to believe that he encouraged white supremacism than other Republicans (18%).
But, as Anthony Nadler, an associate professor of media and communication studies at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania, said then, despite the infighting between Fox News Republicans and other Republicans, “They are still closer to each other than to Democrats.”
You’d never know this from what conservatives say about each other these days.
Take, for example, the column that David Brooks wrote for The Atlantic about the National Conservatism Conference sponsored by The Edmund Burke Foundation earlier this month. Titled “The Terrifying Future of the American Right,” the piece depicted the cheerful, earnest conservatives there as dystopian culture warriors more concerned about owning the libs than creating a society based on timeless moral principles. You came away from it vaguely distressed that a plague of blue suits and red ties was spreading across the nation, some virulent form of Hawleypox.
Conservative talk show host Glenn Beck has made it clear in recent years that he’s no fan of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, and social media thrums with the angry energy of Republicans bashing each other.
Conservatives would do well to remember that when talking about those who share similar values, it’s family they’re talking about. Any hope of achieving policy or cultural goals depends on them getting along, even if some of the pleasantries are exchanged with gritted teeth. To learn how, just look around your Thanksgiving table.
Conservatives have enough cultural challenges right now. Continued infighting puts fewer hands on deck to do the work at the very time when more are needed.