Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Paul Singer’s Limp Response to Tucker Carlson

The Fox News host clearly got under the billionaire's skin, which is right where our new conservatism ought to be.

Last week, Tucker Carlson assailed billionaire donor Paul Singer and his investing fund Elliott Management Company. 

The segment—widely shared on social media and disrupting the conservative ecosphere in Washington—decried Singer’s “vulture capitalism” as “buying large stakes in American companies, firing workers, driving up short-term share prices, and in some cases, taking government bailouts,” all without accruing benefit to workers or the economy at large. 

(Full disclosure: Carlson sits on the advisory board of The American Conservative.)

To illustrate this point, the Fox News host highlighted the effects of Elliott’s role in forcing Cabela’s sporting goods to merge with Bass Pro Shops—a business decision that put the town of Sidney, Nebraska, where Cabela’s was headquartered, into a slow but steady decline.

While Elliott Management and Singer initially declined to comment, the segment struck a chord with a surprising number of those on the center-right, and even some liberals lavished Tucker’s take with praise. 

Sensing a political moment, Elliott Management and Singer, the éminence grise of the neoconservative financial circuit, responded in a Medium post after the segment aired. 

It defended the merger in Sidney as a cold fact of business. Elliott, it argued, saved the company, even if it did lead to some “to job losses or relocations.” 

The firm chided Carlson’s producers for not reading the Cabela’s “public filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that laid out all of the events leading up to the merger.” 

Singer’s acolytes contend that this filing showed that Cabela’s was considering the Bass Pro deal prior to Elliott’s intervention, and that Elliott never advocated the sale.

According the Medium post, “Months before Elliott Management made its investment, Cabela’s Board of Directors was already considering a sale of the company in response to the deteriorating U.S. retail environment.”  

After Elliott invested, it offered “multiple pathways to improve the value of its business — not all of which involved a sale,” though other investors ended up forcing it. 

The post concludes, “The decision to merge with Bass Pro was made by Cabela’s Board after considering all of its alternatives over the course of more than a year, pre-dating our involvement—at no time did Elliott have a seat on the Board or have any direct influence on the Board’s decision-making process.”

Elliott’s response is impressive but insincere. The public filing that Elliott claims discredits Carlson—the authors’ marquee argument—actually backs up Carlson. 

It notes that in early 2015, Cabela’s considered both internal plans called “Project Apex” and “Vision 20/20,” which did not involve selling the company and hired investment consultants Guggenheim Securities to consider other options such as “a recapitalization, a sale-leaseback transaction, an OpCo/PropCo transaction, an acquisition, a CLUB transaction and a sale of the whole Company.” 

However, in August 2015 the Board decided to “cease the broader exploration of potential strategic alternatives,” including a sale. 

On October 26, 2015, Elliott informed Cabela’s that it had bought 11 percent of the company and was pushing for an activist campaign. Just weeks later, the filing notes that Cabela’s management and consultants “had a meeting with representatives of EMC [Elliott Management Company] in which the representatives of EMC stated that they believed the Company should be sold through a public auction process and that, if the Company did not engage in a sales process, EMC was prepared to take further steps with respect to the Company.” 

The filing notes numerous other meetings with Elliott where it indicated “their continued belief that the Company should be sold” until the Board relented and agreed to a sale in the summer of 2016.

Elliott is not doing itself any favors by pretending it had nothing to do with the Cabela’s Bass Pro Merger. This is thin gruel. If the sale of Cabela’s was necessary to help save the company and protect the workers from further cuts, then Elliott Management should focus on making that case rather than obscuring its own role. 

Many of Carlson’s critics, such as Bill Kristol  and Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute (which has received over a million dollars from Singer), nonetheless tweeted out Singer’s response. 

The muckraking Daily Beast, also a Carlson critic, pointed out that a close partner of Carlson’s, former Dick Cheney aid Neil Patel, had sought financing from Singer during the embryonic stages of Carlson’s Daily Caller early this decade. 

For most, however, the controversy has underscored a point in conservative Washington previously largely elided: a crack-up is coming. The fact that Carlson had prior business dealings with Singer shows the status quo for what it is: clubby, corrupted, and past its prime.

Which, I believe, is the point Carlson was making, and has made, in scores of other segments in recent years challenging the consensus of a plainly faltering elite. I’m told there is now one rule at a Washington mainstay, the American Enterprise Institute: “We don’t talk about Tucker Carlson.”

The time has come for honest conversation in America. Mr. Singer, who has given spectacularly to the causes that he believes in, should welcome such a vigorous debate in an increasingly challenged democracy.