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Tucker and TAC

State of the Union: On a huge loss for Fox News and its viewers.
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The news of Tucker Carlson’s split from Fox News can only be counted as a loss. Yes, the network needed him more than he needed Fox, and one hopes Tucker’s next chapter will have an even greater reach and influence than Tucker Carlson Tonight. But for now, the most important political commentator in the country will no longer reach millions of viewers each night.

I know that my weeknights at 8pm just got a whole lot freer, and I suspect I’m hardly alone. Yet while many will turn off Fox News without Tucker, many will not, and they—and the country—will be worse off for it.

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We at The American Conservative have also lost an ally in the mainstream conservative media. Tucker’s Fox show was a critical vehicle for reaching rank-and-file GOP voters with our brand of Main Street conservatism. In 2018, we devoted the cover story of our March/April issue to the then-ascendant cable news host. Alan Pell Crawford’s profile of Tucker Carlson illustrated just how committed Tucker is to the issues that have animated this magazine since the beginning:

He’s increasingly willing—sometimes eager—to challenge positions sacrosanct to the Republican right, especially to neoconservatives....

This raises a question: Can you be a conservative if you don’t embrace foreign policy interventionism? “Look,’’ Carlson says, “if Bill Kristol is a conservative, I am not.”...“I do not favor cutting tax rates for corporations, and I do not favor invading Iran,” he says.

Not long after the “Populist Paladin of Primetime” profile went to press, I had the privilege of watching Tucker’s show live in studio, along with my predecessor as TAC executive director, Johnny Burtka. After the show finished, Tucker asked where we worked.

“The American Conservative,” he replied, “I think I agree with 90% of what you write.”

He then proceeded to spend a far too generous amount of time talking with us about our work and, more importantly, our families. When I told him I got married young, at 22, he was thrilled, and made a point to sign my copy of that March/April 2018 TAC issue to both me and my wife. It now hangs, framed, in my office at TAC HQ.

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Not long after, Tucker agreed to serve as the inaugural chairman of our newly-formed advisory board. I have no doubt his affiliation with us in this way has played a role in the growth of the organization. And it was also shortly thereafter that TAC writers and editors started appearing regularly on the primetime show. The TAC Twitter account published a thread of some of these appearances from recent years, including Staff Reporter Bradley Devlin’s appearance from January of this year.

Readers may notice that a number of those videos come from early 2020. This was right after the killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, when hostilities with Iran were at their height, and a hot war seemed near. Tucker refused to go along with the hawkish line. Instead, he turned to TAC to make the case against escalation, featuring our writers and editors three separate times on the Iran issue during that critical moment. According to an AP report, it had the desired effect:

Shortly after the story of Iran’s counter-attack broke on Tuesday, Carlson hosted a show that mixed coverage of the story as details became known, emphasizing early reports of a lack of American casualties, and interviews with experts on the Middle East. Some of those guests pointed out the dangers of spiraling escalation.

“I continue to believe the president doesn’t want a full-blown war,” Carlson said. “Some around him might, but I think most sober people don’t want that.”

Trump, who announced his decision not to retaliate against Iran’s missile strikes in a nationally televised address 14 hours later, told some close to him that he watched Carlson’s show, according to BuzzFeed News. He told confidants in recent days that Carlson’s strong advocacy not to escalate the situation in Iran played a role in his decision-making, two White House officials and Republicans close to the West Wing told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The Soleimani episode is perhaps the clearest example of that willingness to challenge Republican orthodoxy that Crawford reported in his TAC profile. But it’s hardly the only one.

A few months prior, Tucker was brave enough to go after billionaire GOP megadonor Paul Singer, whose “vulture capitalism” practices pushed outdoor retailer Cabela’s to sell to competitor Bass Pro Shops—and decimated the town of Sidney, Nebraska, the corporate headquarters of Cabela’s. I wrote at the time:

If you’re not yet DVR-ing the 8pm Fox News timeslot, you should be. Last night’s segment was the latest evidence that Tucker Carlson is perhaps the only voice on cable news unafraid to call out those on his own side—even those who are very powerful like Paul Singer. For too long, conservatives have been beholden to moneyed interests that feel no obligation to the country around them. ‘Main Street’ conservatism, by contrast, sides with the people in places like Sidney, Nebraska, over the culturally progressive, interventionist, market absolutists in the centers of power—regardless of which major party receives their dollars.

No doubt there’s a lot we’ll learn about the circumstances of Tucker’s split from Fox in the coming days. One wonders if that disregard for moneyed interests, and willingness to call out his own side, played a role.

What I do know is that The American Conservative is profoundly grateful for all that Tucker and Tucker Carlson Tonight have done to build our publication. As we celebrated our 20th anniversary last year, Tucker was kind enough to record a few thoughts on our magazine’s history to feature in our tribute video.

“[TAC] was the only place that provided intellectual sustenance for me at the time,” he said, reflecting on his mid-aughts realization that the Iraq war was a mistake. “And I was grateful. I still read it.”

Tucker will bounce back, as he always has. In that 2018 profile for TAC, Crawford noted that Tucker knows that the world he inhabits can be fickle:

‘Sooner or later,’ he writes in his breezy 2003 memoir of his cable career, Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites, ‘just about everyone in television gets canned, usually without warning.’

Characteristically, Tucker got it right. Here’s to hoping whatever comes next will give Tucker an even bigger and better platform.