In a rare challenge to President Trump on prime-time Fox News, the host Tucker Carlson expressed dismay on Monday at the president’s handling of demonstrations against racism and police brutality around the country — urging Mr. Trump to be more harsh, not less, in cracking down on protesters.
Mr. Carlson, a conservative media star whose voice carries influence with Mr. Trump, starkly accused the president of weakness and warned that his ability to restore order would be “the singular test of his presidency.”
“If you can’t keep a Fox News correspondent from getting attacked directly across from your house, how can you protect my family?” Mr. Carlson said, referring to a Fox News reporter, Leland Vittert, who was swarmed and chased by protesters near the White House over the weekend.
He added, “How are you going to protect the country? How hard are you trying?”
Continuing to address the president directly, he brought up Omarosa Manigault Newman, who gained fame as a contestant on Mr. Trump’s NBC television show, “The Apprentice,” and later served in his administration.
“You can regularly say embarrassing things on television,” Mr. Carlson said. “You can hire Omarosa to work at the White House. All of that will be forgiven if you protect your people. But if you don’t protect them — or, worse, if you seem like you can’t be bothered to protect them — then you’re done. It’s over. People will not forgive weakness.”
Compared to pro-Trump commentators like Sean Hannity, Mr. Carlson has shown a greater willingness to criticize the president for his approach to matters like Iran and the coronavirus.
His words on Monday, however, were particularly stark, especially given the timing. They came as part of a monologue at the start of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” about an hour after Mr. Trump promised in a Rose Garden address to “dominate the streets” and threatened to deploy military troops to quell the demonstrations that have followed the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground on May 25.
“Good for him,” Mr. Carlson said, of Mr. Trump’s fiery law-and-order speech, adding, in a note of skepticism: “We fervently hope that works.”
He also goaded Mr. Trump over a Twitter post in which the president assured Americans about his own safety after demonstrations by the White House. “Their federally funded bodyguards kept them safe,” Mr. Carlson said of the Trump family. “He did not mention protecting the rest of the nation, some of which was on fire. He seemed aware only of himself.”
As Mr. Carlson spoke on Fox News, Mr. Trump also faced criticism — of a very different sort — on CNN.
The anchor Anderson Cooper, clearly taken aback by Mr. Trump’s militaristic words on Monday, called Mr. Trump a “wannabe wartime president” and questioned how his aggressive approach would ease tensions in an ailing nation.
“The president seems to think dominating black people, dominating peaceful protesters, is law and order,” Mr. Cooper told viewers. “He calls them ‘thugs.’ Who is the thug here? Hiding in a bunker, hiding behind a suit. Who is the thug?”
On a night when curfews were put into effect in a number of American cities, the dueling views of Mr. Trump — airing simultaneously on national cable news networks — seemed to reflect the partisan divides splitting the nation.
Mr. Carlson had incendiary words about the political dynamics of the demonstrations, telling viewers: “Some Democrats have openly embraced it. Really, they don’t have much of a choice. These are their voters, cleaning out the Rolex store. These riots are effectively the largest Joe Biden for president rally on record.”
Mr. Cooper, meanwhile, interviewed Mariann Edgar Budde, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, who expressed outrage that Mr. Trump had staged a photo-op at St. John’s Church by the White House.
“The President just used a Bible and the sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition and one of the churches of my diocese without permission as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything our churches stand for,” Ms. Budde said.
Fox News and CNN did have one feature in common on Monday: both networks broadcast near-constant live footage of protesters and police clashing on streets in cities all across the United States.