Bizarrely, many pundits are asking “can Tucker Carlson save conservatism from itself?”
In fact, The Week writer Damon Linker labels the Fox News personality the “man most likely to be the GOP nominee in 2024.” I would not go that far, but Carlson has become the most influential conservative thinker in America in recent months.
Carlson is one of the most original, intelligent, perceptive, thoughtful, honest, sensitive, and open-minded social commentators to come out of the mainstream media in a long time. Which is odd because his Tucker Carlson Tonight airs on the Fox News Channel.
I gave up on Fox News several years ago; because I could not watch it for over five minutes without getting my intelligence insulted. To clarify, it was not conservatism that offended me at Fox. Instead, it was sheer stupidity of “pundits;” such as the thankfully gone Bill O’Reilly, that drove me away.
Commendably, Carlson brings radicals and critics of the status quo on his show and treats them with respect and dignity. For example, Carlson gives equal time to leftists the Big Media normally shuts out. This includes reporter Glenn Greenwald and Congresswoman and presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).
Moreover, left-wing Democrats, like Andrew Yang (D-New York), often receive a warm welcome and respect on Tucker Carlson Tonight. Sadly, the same leftists get less respect at the supposedly unbiased mainstream media. Carlson even goes on other Fox News shows to defend Democrats. When was the last time you heard of Anderson Cooper going on other CNN shows to defend a Republican?
Is Tucker Carlson our most influential critic of Capitalism?
Finally, Carlson is an outspoken critic of capitalism and the lock big money has on the Republican Party.
Notably, Carlson’s current role as conservative thought leader began after a January 2, 2019, dialogue blasting the destructive effects the Republican Party’s profit over all ethos has on Main Street. Carlson even gripes; “We are ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule.”
In fact, that diatribe inspired The American Conservative social critic Rod Dreher to first raise the prospect of Tucker Carlson for President. Moreover, what pundits call “Tucker’s Monologue” has conservative intellectuals at each others’ throats. The American Conservative’s James Antle III describes the situation as a “low-grade civil war,” and Carlson sparked it.
Only time will tell if this civil war will move beyond the right-wing intelligentsia. Though the growing conflict over Saudi Arabia between President Trump and some Republican US Senators mirrors the conservative intellectual establishment’s row with Carlson. Plus, Team Trump’s efforts to crush US Representative Justin Amash (R-Michigan) could extend that conflict to the party and the primaries.
Is Tucker Carlson the leader of the Right?
Michael Anton labels Carlson the “de-facto leader of the conservative movement” in The Claremont Review of Books.
Anton’s thesis is that Carlson is the heir to Rush Limbaugh as the nation’s foremost popular voice of conservatism. This view is odd; because Limbaugh is still with us, and reaching 15 million listeners a day from his radio pulpit. In contrast, Tucker Carlson only reaches around 2.86 million to five million viewers a night depending on the ratings.
However, many will argue that today’s Limbaugh is a pale shadow of the classic Rush of the 1990s. That Limbaugh was a brash off the wall satirist and tireless critic of the status quo. Today’s Rush comes across as a shill for Donald J. Trump and a tired pitchman for questionable products.
Is Tucker Carlson the New Rush or the Second Coming of William F. Buckley
In many ways, however, Carlson is Rush (and Trump’s) polar opposite. Carlson projects a thoughtful Ivy League image, with a 1970s prep school wardrobe. Additionally, Carlson is an authentic intellectual, a former American Standard staffer.
Yet Carlson energizes the Right like nobody else. Others will claim that Carlson is the heir to William F. Buckley Jr, or to Steve Bannon. Carlson combines Buckley’s thoughtful intellect with Bannon’s brash populism. Moreover, Carlson seeks to provide an intellectual framework for the populist and Trumpist critique of 21st Century America.
Additionally, Carlson has taken on the project of reconciling traditional economic nationalism and isolationism with cultural conservatism and innovative leftist thought. Along the way, Carlson opposes everything from open borders to marijuana legalization to military intervention, and delivers monologues that echo leftist criticisms of corporate America.
Like Buckley and Limbaugh, Carlson fails to discuss racial issues. Carlson’s clumsy comments about immigration and failure to discuss the horrendous state of Black America, are a sharp contrast to the sensitivity he shows on economic issues.
Race could be Carlson’s Achilles’ Heel, because it is one of America’s most important issues. Notably, conservatives’ failure to address racial issues left them incapable of stopping Donald J. Trump. Moreover, critics can easily accuse Carlson of racism, claims for which he has no good response.
Why Tucker Carlson will Turn Climate Warrior
Tucker is strangely silent on perhaps the most important issue of our day: Climate Change. Which is odd because inactivity on Climate Change fits in nicely with his Ship of Fools thesis.
In his surprisingly well-written little manifesto, Carlson shares his belief that an incompetent elite is mismanaging the United States and killing average Americans. President Trump’s sociopathic environmental polices are perfect evidence for the validity of Carlson’s theory.
My suspicion is that Carlson understands the reality of Climate Change but hesitant to talk about it. Probably out of fear of scaring off his viewers and advertisers.
Conversely, I predict Carlson will become an aggressive and radical climate warrior at some point. Given Carlson’s reaction to the opioid epidemic; which is killing average Americans, an about-face on Climate Change is inevitable.
I believe all it will take is a few Climate Change disasters with a high death toll to turn Carlson against fossil fuels. A few more incidents like the Camp Fire, for example. That inferno destroyed an entire working-class town; Paradise, California, and killed dozens of mostly working-class whites.
Thus it will not shock me when Carlson demands the banning of coal and the jailing of oil executives. It will confuse the environmentalists when Carlson joins their ranks though.
Where Does Tucker Carlson Fit in?
Consequently, I label Carlson an old-fashioned public intellectual, and the heir to H.L. Mencken more than Buckley.
Like Mencken, Carlson is an intellectual who seeks to use a big media pulpit to change national opinions. Additionally, Carlson like Mencken sees himself as a defender of traditional American society from semi-intellectual barbarians. Plus, Carlson is nicer than Buckley whose public persona could be downright nasty.
Mencken never left his perch at The Baltimore Sun and remained a newspaperman to his dying day. Buckley, in contrast, tried to create a new noncommercial elitist media through his National Review and failed.
On the other hand, Carlson; like Mencken, prefers to lob rhetorical grenades from his Fox News pulpit rather than build new media. Although, Carlson is amassing vast amounts of social media street cred thanks to the sharing of his videos through outlets like YouTube.
Justin Raimondo notes in The Imaginative Conservative that Carlson’s thought harks back to pre-World War II America First conservatism rather than Buckley’s technocratic elitism. Mencken was both a critic and a leader of Depression-era conservatism. Additionally, Mencken had a complex and controversial view of race.
Thus Carlson is setting himself against the current leaders of the Republican Party, academia, most of the intelligentsia, and the bicoastal elite that dominates the big media. Yet like Mencken, Carlson is an unapologetic member of that elite.
Will Tucker Carlson build a new American Consensus?
Unlike Mencken; who never relinquished his role as loner social critic, Carlson is attempting to forge a consensus between alienated elements of the right and left. However, I cannot see how such a coalition can work without nonwhites particularly blacks.
Accordingly, Carlson reaches out to left-wing gadflies like Greenwald and Gabbard, technocrats like Andrew Yang, leftists like US Senator Liz Warren (D-Massachusetts); who is trying to appropriate Tucker’s popular economic nationalism, and to paleocons from The American Conservative.
Only time will tell if Carlson’s actions are a political strategy or ratings building effort. Political scientist James Stimson claims American’s political mood is now the “Most Liberal Ever Recorded,” The Intelligencer notes. Cynics, consequently, will say Carlson is merely adjusting his message to attract a larger audience.
I think Carlson sounds sincere on air, however. Particularly, I detect a lot of confusion, guilt, and remorse in Tucker’s monologues. To me Carlson sounds more like a thoughtful man who realizes he was wrong rather than a leader.
Tellingly, Tucker’s strongest appeal is to conservatives who are discovering their ideology is not delivering the benefits Reagan, Rush, and Buckley promised. Along the way, Carlson appeals to Democrats disillusioned with Bill Clinton style-centrism.
A Vacuum of Conservative Leadership
Therefore, Carlson’s newfound moral authority and influence emerges from a vacuum of conservative leadership.
Notably, Carlson seems to take on the role formerly held by conservative presidents like Ronald Reagan (R-New York) and George W. Bush (R-Texas). This is the fault of our president rather than anything Carlson planned.
President Donald J. Trump (R-New York); unlike Bush and Reagan, refuses to discuss ideas or policies. Instead, Trump criticizes everybody and everything while glorifying America but giving no rationale for anything he does.
This leaves an opening for Carlson, who provides some intellectual framework for Trumpism. Even though Carlson himself is uncomfortable with both Trump and Trumpism. From his TV commentary, I get the impression, Carlson likes what Trump is trying to do; but regards the President himself as an incompetent weakling.
My take is that Carlson is too intellectual to craft a new American political consensus; but he could provide the catalyst for the upheaval that leads to one. Remember, Buckley launched the conservative revolution of the 1960s but others took it to power. However, I think it will take a far more charismatic and approachable figure; somebody like Reagan or FDR, to build that consensus.
Ironically, instead of saving conservatism Tucker Carlson could be the harbinger of whatever political thought replaces neoliberalism as our national ideology. Along the way, Carlson could be the man who destroys what’s left of conservatism by showing conservatives how naked their Emperor is.