This past weekend Tucker Carlson gave the keynote address at the Heritage Foundation’s Fiftieth Anniversary Summit and Gala. His speech wasn’t about his show on Fox, or the media or the industry itself. It was steeped in the political and cultural themes the country is headed for ahead of the 2024 election.
Carlson aptly set the table of topics for politicians to pick up, from the current debate around gender and Critical Race Theory. He highlighted key issues where conservative leaders should be responding, such as Greg Abbott recently in Texas as he works to pardon Daniel Perry for his role in the shooting of a BLM protester.
Tucker has served as a sort of kingmaker for American conservatives and Republican politicians in recent years. But what would happen if Tucker decided that he himself is the king now? What if Tucker acted on a long-held fringe rumor that he might actually jump into the 2024 GOP primary, upending any expectations of a two-man race between former president Donald Trump and Florida governor Ron DeSantis?
Carlson’s sudden departure from Fox will no doubt kick the speculators and pollsters into action. His name, whether he intends for it to be or not, will likely begin to appear in polling.
Sure it may sound like a speculative fantasy at the moment, but sometimes those speculative fantasies become “golden escalator at Trump Tower” reality. Nothing can be ruled off the table for Carlson: barring some more credible revelations behind the scenes at Fox that include harassment or abuse, Carlson will have free rein to choose his future path. That could be in independent media, or as a candidate.
And to write off his potential chances in a GOP primary field would be naive. Carlson brings a built-in audience of millions who would at least entertain him over the current front-runner, who will be seventy-eight when he takes office, or the Florida governor, about whom some donors have charisma concerns. He could certainly move the needle more than Nikki Haley, or any of the candidates hovering around 1 percent in polling.
Carlson’s weakness of course, electorally speaking, is that he is a media lightning-rod, much the same way Donald Trump is (we would be flooded with “Carlson is more dangerous than Trump” thinkpieces). Just this past weekend on MSNBC, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested government censorship laws against Carlson. And yes, Carlson would motivate opposition voters much the same way Trump did in 2020.
But Carlson’s strength is appealing to that nationalist-populist strain of Republican voter, the kind that Joe Biden still refuses to acknowledge in towns such as East Palestine, Ohio. Carlson excels at giving his cable news megaphone to “the forgotten man” — and in doing so has built a personal following rarely seen with cable infotainment hosts. It would be a formidable audience in an actual election — and, for better or worse, few politicians know the cultural and political landscape on the right than Carlson.
Carlson has always expressed skepticism at the idea of him running for office. “I have zero ambition, not just politically but in life,” Carlson told Semafor’s Ben Smith last year. “My ambition is to write my script by 8 p.m., and I’m not just saying that, ask anyone who works with me or knows me.
“I don’t think that way; I don’t want power, I’ve never wanted power. I’m annoyed by things and I want them to change… but I’ve never been motivated by the desire to control people.”
After his Fox ouster, has that calculus changed? To write him off, right out of the gate would be a mistake — and one that could happen sooner than any of his antagonists in the national media think.