Carlson, of course, isn’t a politician but a pundit, although one with a fairly large following. And he’s using his platform for a strategic purpose: With his never-ending attacks on neocons and libertarians and his selective praise of left-wing populists like Warren, Carlson appears to be trying to push the GOP toward becoming a genuine right-wing populist party, the party of the MARs. Yet there’s probably a limit to what Carlson can accomplish here. To the extent that he exerts a direct influence on politics — his conversation with Trump on Iran being the prime example — it’s by acting as a bridge between the president and a particularly energetic section of his base. That base is Trump’s, not Carlson’s, and it’s unclear whether it will cohere without a Trump-like figure. The tea party was in many ways a MAR movement, and in recent years it has broken hard for Trump. But before Trump ever came along, the former Fox personality most closely identified with the tea party was Glenn Beck, whose mix of Oprah-style positive thinking and small-government fundamentalism was miles away from Carlson’s market-skeptic populism.
Once Trump is gone, Carlson could go the way of Beck, fading into obscurity after breaking with Fox News. (It’s unclear, for instance, whether Fox would be as tolerant of Carlson’s attacks on capitalism under a more conventionally laissez-faire Republican president.) Or he could conclude that, given his own name recognition, the likelihood of a crowded field in 2024, and the risk of an attempted restoration by the GOP Establishment, the best option for realizing his vision of the Republican future would be to take the advice of Rod Dreher and do what he has already promised never to do: run for president.