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Although we’re still piecing together the story of why Fox News fired its dangerous megastar Tucker Carlson, speculation about his future has already strayed off into talk of a potential 2024 presidential run. Indeed, Politico devoted a lot of space to half-tongue-in-cheek interviews of Republican political operatives explaining how Carlson ’24 might work. After all, the guy is no less qualified than Donald Trump when he came down that escalator in 2015. And if anyone could represent MAGA 2.0 without losing the original’s provocative race-based, faux-populist entertainment value, it’s probably this deeply cynical demagogue who knows exactly what Fox viewers want.
So it would be foolish to rule out Carlson as presidential timber. But it’s also pretty clear that, even if he could overcome the exposure of the potentially explosive grounds for his firing, he’s missed his moment for 2024, barring some cataclysm.
Carlson’s lack of viability as a 2024 candidate isn’t just a matter of having to go from zero to 60 faster than a Tesla in mounting a presidential campaign. By all accounts, this is a late-developing presidential-election cycle, and Carlson does enjoy high name ID everywhere Republicans gather. The bigger problem for him would be finding a unique niche in the 2024 field as it is developing. Is there a “Tucker lane”? I don’t think so.
If Republicans want Trumpism without Trump, there are already multiple options, including Ron DeSantis, who, like Carlson, has found his own theatrical means for displaying reactionary cultural views steeped in white racial resentment and plain cruelty. The Florida governor has also shown adeptness at something Carlson cannot begin to emulate: bending a large state bureaucracy to his will. Carlson can travel to Budapest and marvel at Victor Orbán’s success in establishing a modern authoritarian state, but DeSantis is building his own Hungary in the swamps and subdivisions of God’s “planned paradise.”
Yes, it’s possible DeSantis will fade and fail in 2024. But if he does, it will be far down the road toward the GOP nomination. There’s something about the idea of Carlson competing with DeSantis, Pence, Nikki Haley, and Tim Scott on the ponderous and highly retail campaign circuit in Iowa that strains credulity.
But the main reason Carlson ’24 isn’t happening is the most obvious: What does he bring to the table that his occasional idol Donald Trump doesn’t? There are droves of Republicans who are repelled or terrified by some aspect of Trump’s personality but accept it as part of the magic formula that also led to a policy record they are proud of. And for all the fears about Trump’s electability, he did win in 2016 and came closer to victory in 2020 than most independent observes thought possible. With someone like Carlson, who has never managed anything other than words, Republicans would take on all the risks of Trumpism with none of the business background or demonstrated party-leadership skills.
It’s fun to imagine Carlson as a candidate in a presidential debate, where his demagogic skills might give him an advantage. But in the end, he’d almost certainly be ground up between Trump and DeSantis or whichever credible non-Trump candidate emerges without a long record of nauseating and fully televised utterances.
To be clear, Carlson remains a wee lad at 53; depending on what he does next, he can always find the right moment for a career in politics. He might want to find a place to live that would provide a home base other than on television (he currently shares Florida with Trump and DeSantis), and it’s always perilous to have nowhere to begin other than a bid for the very pinnacle of U.S. government. The odds are reasonably high that Carlson’s career has already peaked. But, rising or falling, he’s missed any chance he had to reach for the brass rings of the presidency in 2024.