Willing to challenge positions sacrosanct to Republicans, he’s hit a winning formula with today’s conservatives.
Carlson has established himself as a distinctive voice of a conservatism struggling to redefine itself and find its footing in the Age of Trump. And his heady brew of ideological certitude and brash showmanship seems to be working. At the beginning of the year, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” averaged 2.7 million viewers a night, says Nielsen Media Research, beating CNN’s Anderson Cooper and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and making the show number one in their enviable 8 p.m. time slot.
He remains well within the ideological tent on many red meat controversies of the day, however, particularly on immigration, which he considers a factor in the troubling condition of many rural communities.
As for the idea that “diversity is our strength,” Carlson lit into Sen. Lindsey Graham for saying that America is “an idea, not defined by its people.” This claim, Carlson said, might surprise the people who already live here, “with their actual families and towns and traditions and history and customs.”
In his attitudes toward “diversity,” Carlson considers Graham not much different from his Northwest Washington neighbors. “My neighbors,” he says, “don’t understand why it is not a good idea to keep ‘welcoming’ untold thousands of low-income, poorly educated immigrants.
Though Carlson supported the Iraq War when Bush initiated it, he later denounced it as “a total nightmare and a disaster, and I’m ashamed I went against my own instincts in supporting it. I’ll never do it again. Never.” He has also developed a contempt for much of neocon foreign policy—and for some of its chief proponents. Back in July, a guest on his show was Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations, who once suggested that the troubled lands of Islam “cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets.”
When Carlson told Boot that it was folly for the United States to have tried to oust Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and that neocons (and Democrats) are wildly exaggerating the Russian threat, Boot accused Carlson of being a “cheerleader” for Russia.
This raises a question: Can you be a conservative if you don’t embrace foreign policy interventionism? “Look,’’ Carlson says, “if Bill Kristol is a conservative, I am not.”
If Carlson’s skepticism about the Iranian threat is still a minority view in Washington, he is used to having unpopular opinions. He seems comfortable taking on the establishment, as he defines it, whether the subject is Iran, Russia, immigration, or trade—or Trump. When asked what he thinks of Steve Bannon, the president’s erstwhile chief strategist who also deals in controversy, Carlson replies, “I don’t think Bannon fully understands the ideas he espouses.” But he adds: “I will say this for him: He has been brave enough to say that the people in charge in Washington don’t know what they are doing, with respect to Iran and a lot else.” The people making the decisions these days are the equivalent of day traders, “making it up as they go,” Carlson says. “The private equity model is not good for the economy, and it is not good for the government or the American people. It’s too shortsighted.”
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