Last week, I joined Steve Deace’s BlazeTV podcast to discuss the astonishing success of Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and the forward-looking implications of that success for both conservative media and American conservatism itself.
Carlson, much to the chagrin of “woke” capitalists and astroturfing leftists, now has the highest-rated cable news show in television history. He is now floated as a possible 2024 presidential candidate—and perhaps even a way-too-early frontrunner—with no degree of infrequency. His opening monologues, which had already occasionally risen to national headline-making status, have of late emerged as must-see daily viewing for conservative politicos, Capitol Hill policymakers, and the broader punditocracy alike. Despite sometimes vociferously disagreeing with Trump administration personnel and policy, Carlson is known to have the president’s close ear—and intellectually honest conservatives amongst the blue checkmarked Twitterati ought to take heed of that counterintuitive reality.
Carlson is a remarkably gifted communicator. I watched him deliver a keynote address at the 2019 National Conservatism Conference in Washington, D.C., and his ability to electrify a room and pump his audience’s blood is nonpareil in American politics today. He is a captivating natural on-camera, and a jocular delight off-camera. His myriad rhetorical talents no doubt augment his reach and add gravitas to those clamoring for him to directly enter the political fray.
But the true meaning of Carlson’s success is not merely his stylistic appeal. It is substantive. Tucker Carlson has tapped into something deep and meaningful.
To be sure, Carlson has well-formed views on foreign policy—views with which I partially, but by no means wholly, agree. But it is in the realm of domestic policy that Carlson has truly distinguished himself. In America’s cold civil war, Carlson has emerged as the preeminent spokesperson for the Americanists—those unabashed, visceral patriots who stand athwart the civilizational arsonists and seek to preserve the American regime and way of life. Carlson is a staunch culture warrior on all the wedge issues currently dividing the polity, such as immigration enforcement, the solemnity of the rule of law, and the metastasis of identity politics. He has already paid a price for such outspokenness, but Carlson is nothing if not unintimidated by our would-be ochlocracy. In sum, there is no one in the public square today more instantly identifiable with the core Americanist stances: Secure the border, stop multiculturalism, back the blue, and salute the flag.
But multiculturalism, as destructive to the American order as it is, is hardly the only liberal ideology that Carlson opposes. Within the distinct stratum of economic policy, Carlson has also established himself as an unyielding opponent of neoliberalism.
“Neoliberalism” is admittedly a somewhat murky concept and difficult to distill. My friend David Azerrad did as good a job as anyone in a May post here at “The Commons,” ultimately defining it as “the worldview of those who believe that history has ended, that commerce can forever vanquish war, and that consumers can replace citizens.” In his nightly sermons, Carlson has repeatedly telegraphed his strident opposition to this precise sentiment. He is not merely uninterested in paying homage to bipartisan bromides that economic liberalization via trade outsourcing and immigration insourcing may lead to political liberalization abroad and “lifting all boats” at home. Carlson outright opposes those pieties. He excoriates rote ideological paeans to Smith’s Wealth of Nations, preferring instead to focus on the idiosyncratic wealth and health of America—with its families, communities, and other humanized components of the social fabric. He places squarely in his crosshairs Reason’s “free minds and free markets” libertarianism, preferring instead to focus on the inherent dignity of hard labor, the importance of buying American, and the national security threat posed by outsourced supply chains.
In standing so emphatically against élites of both the multiculturalist and neoliberal sort, Carlson also stands with the preponderance of centrist/right-leaning Americans who express prudential, ideologically detached, non-absolutist views on economic policy. That preponderance of Americans has an intuitive grasp of the disruptions wrought by decades of unfettered cross-border movements of labor, capital, and goods without any government attention attuned to the plight of those left behind en masse. That preponderance of Americans understands that “let the market rip” will not suffice for acceptable statesmanship.
In Carlson, the riveting orator who is aggressively American and aggressively hostile to the “New World Order” envisioned three decades by President George H.W. Bush, that preponderance of Americans has found its tribune. The Nielsen ratings prove it. And by extension, they also prove the importance of the American Compass project.
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