Read: The nationalists take Washington
The question, then, is whether this larger worldview Carlson is espousing each night, encompassing restrictionism, protectionism, and anti-interventionism, has currency with GOP voters absent a race-based appeal—in other words, whether an economics of meaning alone can sustain a populist revolution on the right. Carlson says it does, and it can.
His programming tells another story. On his December 6 broadcast, one day after our interview, Carlson featured Pete D’Abrosca, a North Carolina congressional candidate campaigning on an end to immigration. D’Abrosca’s plan appears rooted in his belief that white Americans are “being replaced by third world peasants who share neither their ethnicity nor their culture.” He’s been lauded by the white-nationalist website VDare and is strongly supported by the so-called Groyper movement, an offshoot of the alt-right led by Nick Fuentes, a 21-year-old who has, among other things, denied the extent of the Holocaust and argued that the First Amendment was “not written for Muslims.” D’Abrosca went on Carlson’s show to advertise his proposed 10-year moratorium on immigration. “I think that there’s a new Republican Party in town,” D’Abrosca said.
Carlson knows failure. This, in his view, is why, despite going to the same schools, working in the same town—gaming the same “system”—as the elites he rails against, he doesn’t share their “narcissism.” “When you get fired in TV, you know, especially when you’re running a show with your name on it, it’s impossible to evade responsibility for it,” he told me, referencing his MSNBC show, Tucker, which in 2008 was canceled during its third season. “When your show goes under, it goes under because people don’t like you. Like, you’re a loser … I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, but it certainly is the only way you ever learn anything—by being humiliated, and crushed.”
Yet Carlson also knows success. And if the lesson of failure is that it’s time to “learn a new trick,” he explained, the message of success is sometimes to sit still.
Talking with Carlson reminded me of a moment from my interview with President Trump earlier this spring. He was reminiscing about his first evening in the White House residence. “I’ll never forget,” he told me. “I came into the White House, I was here for my first night, and I said, ‘Wow. Four years is such a long time.’”
Four years ago, Paul Ryan, the GOP’s boy-wonder champion of entitlement cuts and immigration reform, was grudgingly settling into the speakership, having been drafted as the best hope of uniting his conference. Four years ago, the governor of Alabama was stumping on behalf of John Kasich in the GOP presidential primary. Four years ago, pundits were still calling Donald Trump a fluke.
Now we are here in this studio, where Carlson is reaping praise for a blistering segment on a Republican mega-donor, Paul Singer, that showcased how the billionaire hedge-funder had sapped a small Nebraska town of jobs after helping engineer the takeover of a sporting-goods chain that was headquartered there. He’s listening as Jeanine Pirro calls the impeachment of Donald Trump “hogwash” and reads passages from The Federalist Papers by way of explanation. In a few minutes, he’ll excoriate the think tank that served as the ideological bedrock of George H. W. Bush’s administration and was predicted to be Paul Ryan’s employer post-Congress.