Is Tucker running for president?

AP Photo/Richard Drew

I’m going to guess yes because we’re in the darkest timeline now and he’s the only person the GOP might plausibly nominate who compares unfavorably to Trump.

So yeah, he’s probably running. And will probably win.

Although not if Trump is also running, right? I assume “Tucker 2024” is a contingency plan that only gets activated if Trump passes on the race, creating a free-for-all for the nomination. In that case, Carlson might believe he can recreate the magic of Trump 2016 by barreling onto a stage that’s overcrowded with professional politicians and selling himself as the straight-shooting Fox News culture warrior.

He was asked about running last summer and denied emphatically having any interest: “I guess if I was the last person on earth who could do it. But that seems pretty unlikely that I would be that guy — you know what I mean? … I’m a talk show host; I enjoy it.”

Even Tucker fans would have trouble arguing that he’s the last person on earth who could do it in an era when governors like DeSantis, Abbott, Kemp, and Youngkin are picking hot-button fights with the left and winning more often than not. What’s the case for nominating a guy who talks a good populist game on TV every night over DeSantis, an experienced politician with a record of making populists happy in Florida?

“DeSantis isn’t anti-vax enough”? C’mon. It’s not 2016 anymore. Republicans should, and I think will, demand more from their populist heroes in 2022 than the distinction of being the biggest reactionary blowhard onstage at the debates.

Besides, DeSantis is plenty anti-vax enough. He’s worked hard over the past nine months to prove it!

Food for thought: Where would Tucker rank on a depth chart of potential 2024 hopefuls? That is, who would have to drop out to give him a semi-realistic chance of catching fire and surfing to the nomination? He’s an expert communicator and has charisma to spare, which is probably enough to win a presidential nomination in our benighted era. I can’t see him beating Trump, though, as the sheer size of Trump’s stature within the party would probably end up suffocating a Carlson campaign. How do you catch fire when all of the media and grassroots oxygen is being consumed by you-know-who?

I can’t see him beating DeSantis either for reasons I’ve explained. There’s nothing not to like about DeSantis if you’re a populist, and he has battle scars that Carlson lacks by dint of the fact that he holds major office. Simply put, his “he fights!” cred exceeds Tucker’s. The only chance Carlson might have against him is if he pulled a page from Trump’s 2016 playbook and offered Republican voters something no one else onstage was offering. Six years ago, Trump pitched populist-nationalism in a crowd of senators and governors pushing populist conservatism. In 2024 everyone who runs will be pitching populist-nationalism to some degree, which makes it harder for Tucker to stand out. He could go all-in on Orbanism or some fascist-lite Euronationalist program in the Le Pen mold, which would make a primary that’s destined to be dark even darker. But it’d be grimly funny watching the other candidates try to adjust their own pandering to avoid being outflanked by it.

Gotta dial up the white identity politics a few notches to keep pace if Carlson’s in the race going full metal populist.

If we ended up somehow with neither Trump nor DeSantis running — a populist doomsday scenario — then I wouldn’t write Carlson off. I think he’d make mincemeat of establishmentarians like Nikki Haley and he’d easily out-charisma faux populists like Ted Cruz. Rep. Thomas Massie, a libertarian, once famously said after Trump won the 2016 nomination that it made him realize the “Ron Paul revolution” of 2008 and 2012 among some righties wasn’t a true libertarian awakening on the right. It was more a matter of populists opting to support the guy whom they thought was “the craziest sonofabitch in the race,” the person most likely to upend the existing political order if elected. Once Trump came along, that distinction became his. A Trump-less and DeSantis-less race would give Carlson a shot at claiming that mantle. And if he did, he could win.

Here’s Marge Greene with a sneak preview of the Tucker 2024 message, expressing patriotism the way only a nationalist can.