After two years and almost 10 months of watching Donald Trump humiliate the United States, make a mockery of our institutions and traditions, and treat the rule of law like he treats his porn star girlfriends, you might think this White House is as bad as it can get.
Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.
Let’s be honest about Mr. Trump for a bit, shall we? For all of his braggadocio, his claims of being the richest, the toughest, the best dealmaker, the smartest and wisest man of all time, we all know Mr. Trump is none of those things.
He’s deeply in debt, he evaded the draft over a minor foot problem because he was too afraid to serve in the military, he’s failed to make deals with North Korea, China, the Democrats and, the last I checked, Mexico still wasn’t paying for the wall Mr. Trump has yet to build.
And every time he tweets or speaks, the president proves there was a good reason no one ever cheated off his test papers in high school.
To put it bluntly, Melania didn’t marry Donald for the scintillating conversations they had on deep philosophical issues after a couple of games of chess.
But what if what follows President Trump is something just like him, only intelligent and charming, instead of dumber than a bag of dumb things and, well, repulsive?
What if the next demagogue who captures the attention of the 38% of the American voting electorate who, seemingly, will fall for anything, is glamorous, elegant, educated, yet just as diabolical and self-absorbed as Mr. Trump?
Now, don’t laugh, but what if Tucker Carlson is what follows Donald Trump?
Okay, I said don’t laugh. Here’s why you should take him seriously: no single top television political pundit saw year-over-year viewership growth other than Tucker Carlson. Compared to his 2018 numbers, Mr. Carlson’s viewership is up 5% to almost 2.9 million daily viewers, second only to fellow Fox pundit Sean Hannity (down 6%) and outpacing third place Rachel Maddow (down 7%), one of only two liberals to make the Big Ten list.
And not only is his show getting more attention than it did before the Trump presidency, so is the possibility of him being the GOP 2024 presidential candidate, as well. Serious political journalists, including Damon Linker, senior correspondent for The Week and former speechwriter for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, back when he wasn’t a deranged and frothing nutter, believes Mr. Carlson is best positioned to capitalize on the hate, bigotry, anger and resentment brewed in the nationalist cauldron of the Trump presidency:
Whether President Trump wins or loses his bid for re-election in 2020, the moment of truth awaits us four years after that. That’s when the forces of bitterness and discontent that Trump tapped into and unleashed in 2016 are most likely to produce a full-scale ideological realignment of the Republican Party.
And the man who may well be best positioned to catalyze that transformation — the man most likely to be the GOP nominee in 2024 — is none other than primetime Fox News talking head Tucker Carlson.
Claiming he has no idea if Mr. Carlson has political aspirations – he, of course, does – Mr. Linker says, regardless of his ambitions, the Republican Party is primed for the candidacy of someone with Mr. Carlson’s nationalist credentials. “He may not aspire to be president, or have the hunger and stamina required to launch and sustain a run for the White House,” wrote Mr. Linker. “What I do know is that the future of the Republican Party, and maybe the future of American politics as a whole, lies in the direction he’s been pushing on his show over the past few months.”
And what direction is that, according to Mr. Linker? After assailing the Trump candidacy as “an incoherent mess of ideas” that “combined racist and nativist appeals with attacks on Reaganite orthodoxy,” Mr. Linker said the Trump presidency is little more than “standard-issue Republican priorities” and that it had “failed to follow through on a process of shifting the GOP in the direction of becoming what ex-Trump adviser Stephen Bannon used to call a “worker’s party.”
Better at Being Trump Than Trump
It was here, lamenting the failure of the Trump presidency to alter the nation’s economic system to create, in Mr. Carlson’s words, “a fair country. A decent country. A cohesive country. A country whose leaders don’t accelerate the forces of change purely for their own profit and amusement,” that the TV pundit decided to step in and give the Republican Party a push.
In a diatribe that liberal columnist Jane Coaston called “an indictment of American capitalism,” Tucker Carlson attacked America’s “ruling class,” calling them “mercenaries” and blaming them for the nation’s social decay. He claimed the “ugliest part of our financial system” was tearing the middle class apart and destroying the fabric binding Americans together. “Any economic system that weakens and destroys families is not worth having. A system like that is the enemy of a healthy society,” he said on his show.
Mr. Carlson’s populist message, one echoed throughout history by demagogues schooled in the art of dividing the common man from the elites by concocting webs of conspiracy and intrigue, fired up the nationalists who have risen to prominence in today’s GOP, in the party that once rejected all forms of collectivism but that now seems to embrace the sort preached by Donald Trump and his adherents.
For example, American Conservative writer Rod Dreher, in his endorsement of Mr. Carlson for president, said of the pundit’s condemnation of American capitalism, “A man or woman who can talk like that with conviction could become president. Voting for a conservative candidate like that would be the first affirmative vote I’ve ever cast for president. Donald Trump sensed in his gut that the time is ripe for a politician like this, but he’s too compromised by his own massive faults to articulate a vision and execute it.”
In other words, Tucker Carlson is a smarter, less corrupt and more articulate version of Donald Trump.
Now, let’s be clear, there is a lot wrong with the American economic system, for certain. A lot of it, though, benefits people like Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson, whose step-mother is the heir to the Swanson frozen food fortune. So are people like them willing to redesign the economic system to replace the crony capitalism that makes and keeps them rich with true free market capitalism that would benefit all?
The problem with buying Mr. Carlson’s new found love of the common man is it doesn’t wash with his affinity for what he and his friends are now calling “national conservatism,” a political philosophy that calls for the expansion of federal government powers to correct what its proponents see as mistakes made by the free market.
Leaders of the movement held a well-funded three-day conference to discuss their new, big government version of conservatism (they passed a resolution calling for a federal government industrial policy) in July 2019 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Carlson, redefining himself there as an economic populist, was the star attraction, giving the keynote address on day two. His speech was entitled “Big Business Hates Your Family.”
Reacting to the ideas he heard from speakers at the conference, Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) tweeted: “ ‘National conservatism’ is just collectivism re-branded for the right. It’s a form of socialism built upon fear of the new and different.” How right he was, as other speakers at the conference were to prove.
Whites Make America Great and Nazism Wasn’t Nationalism
Also in attendance at the conference was Penn State Prof. Amy Wax who claimed America would be better off if it didn’t allow so many non-white immigrants into the country. “Embracing cultural distance, cultural distance nationalism, means in effect taking the position that our country will be better off with more whites than non-whites,” she said, arguing that white European immigrants assimilate more easily into the American culture than do others who come from different cultures.
Ignoring the fact that cultural diversity has strengthen the United States over its history, Prof. Wax argued the media “mangled, distorted and misrepresented my position and arguments for shock value, sensation, and in order to shut down discussion of important issues regarding immigration,” while encouraging conservatives to continue discussing the importance of race when making immigration policy decisions.
Another attendee was Yarom Hazony, an Israeli author and political scientist whose book, The Virtue of Nationalism, is, as conservative columnist Max Boot puts it, an attempt to rehabilitate the nationalism that spawned Nazi Germany.
One of the conference organizers, the Israeli think tanker Yarom Hazony, has written an entire book to rehabilitate a doctrine that has been in bad odor since the 1940s. Like a Marxist true believer claiming that the Soviet Union did not represent “true” communism, Hazony writes that the Nazis weren’t actually nationalists but, rather, “imperialists.” This merely makes his book silly. What makes it sinister is that he embraces tribalism (“By a nation, I mean a number of tribes with a shared heritage”), disdains minority rights (he advocates “the overwhelming dominance of a single, cohesive nationality … whose cultural dominance is plain and unquestioned”) and rejects the “individual freedom” that lies at the heart of the American project. Trump accuses his political foes of being “anti-American”; the appellation more nearly fits his more fervent followers.
Libertarian writer Akiva Malamet described Mr. Hazony’s view of a nation as “a tribe” aligned together by race, religion, language and culture, joined in the defense of their common interests. Empires, which is what Mr. Hazony calls organizations like the European Union and the Nazi state, are collections of tribes gathered together involuntarily by a dominant tribe in their midst that bends the others to its will.
In the defense of their tribe, argues Mr. Hazony, according to Ms. Malamet, nations may wage “unjust war” and “impose sweeping domestic oppression.” She writes, “This nationalism should not guide our thinking today.”
But it does seem to be guiding the thinking on the nationalists, the “America First” crowd who see tribes other than the American one as threats to our way of life.
That view has been promoted repeatedly by Pres. Trump who riles crowds at his rallies to a fevered pitch over derogatory and condemnatory comments directed at foreigners and foreign countries.
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” tweeted Pres. Trump in reference to four non-white female members of Congress. “And come back and show us how…”
Three of the four were born in America.
“Tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border,” then candidate Donald Trump said in a statement issued by his campaign July 6, 2015. “The United States has become a dumping ground for Mexico and, in fact, for many other parts of the world.”
“Sometimes you have to let them fight like two kids in a lot, you gotta let them fight, and then you pull them apart,” Mr. Trump said about warfare caused by his order to pull American troops out of Syria where they were keeping Turks from attacking Kurdish fighters who were allied with U.S. troops in the war against ISIS.
The difference between how Mr. Carlson would deliver this nationalist message to voters compared to how Mr. Trump clumsily does is what would make a Tucker Carlson presidency so much worse than a Donald Trump one.
Where Mr. Trump is a ham-fisted, unlikeable and incompetent fool, unable to keep from tripping over his own self-made political disasters, Mr. Carlson is an articulate, well-spoken and canny strategist who understands the political structure of Washington and who could build alliances in Congress and in the bureaucracy where Mr. Trump can do little more than intimidate and alienate.
Where Mr. Trump can only sell his message to a limited audience incapable of seeing he is only motivated by self-interest, greed and narcissistic self-aggrandizement, Mr. Carlson is capable of persuading Americans that his brand of authoritarianism is a small, but necessary, price to pay to regain American greatness, as he defines it.
While Mr. Trump can’t sell his vision of an aggrieved white majority victimized by leftist multiculturalism and economically oppressed by unfair business practices without sounding like the racist con man he is, Mr. Carlson will be able to combine leftist-sounding economic grievances and right-wing cultural complaints with an articulation that will blow away the competition.
He already does so on Fox, five nights a week.