Tucker Carlson and a Coming ‘Hot War’?
The Fox former has floated that Donald Trump will be assassinated, while Russian television has warned Carlson is also in lethal danger.
The biggest story on television in 2023 is what stopped being on it.
Since his late April ejection, a number of surmised answers to the question of why Tucker Carlson lost his job at Fox News have percolated. The most social interpretation is that Carlson’s removal was the result of interpersonal drama, even fear. Fox founder Rupert Murdoch broke off an engagement around the same time he and his then-fiancée reportedly had dinner with the host. It is said that the patriarch was spooked by Carlson’s personal religiosity, and that his once-prospective spouse’s true faith was not a happy coincidence.
Of course, there are other takes.
There is the power-political valence. Murdoch wanted his empire, including other verticals such as the Wall Street Journal and New York Post, to support Ron DeSantis’s bid for the presidency. This rationale is the most likely to be forgotten now, left unconsidered: Though the Florida governor was already flagging in the polls by April, as of this writing in September his campaign is a venture that looks stillborn. Then there are the politics of Fox itself. Murdoch has fired all three of Fox’s arguably most interesting (or era-defining) anchors over the years. When Carlson originally got the top job in 2017, the tenures of Glenn Beck (the ur-voice of the Tea Party) and Bill O’Reilly (the most famous anchor of the 2000s) loomed over him.
Perhaps the plurality view is that the network’s former premiere anchor was collateral damage. That is, though it is expressed nowhere in the $787 million settlement, Dominion Voting Systems Corporation demanded the longtime journo’s head as further barter to not take Fox all the way to trial. The most convincing element in this line of the story is that Carlson and company have humored it.
But the Dominion-as-culprit read casts aside a key and confusing reality. The former Fox star—who has been doubtless the most prominent intellectual translator of Trumpism for some time—was also hardly an ultra for the voter fraud interpretation of the 2020 election. Indeed, correspondent with the suit was the publication of Carlson’s private and deep frustrations with the 45th president during the harrowing late 2020–early 2021 period.
By all available evidence, the duo have ended any quarrel, though. Trump selected Carlson for the interview that counter-programmed Fox’s hosting of the first Republican presidential debate last month. Still, from Dominion’s perspective, why target Carlson? Surely there were other forces within the New York media firm more motivated against the Canadian software organization. The unrivaled survivor of all Fox drama, Sean Hannity, is also a big name and is less ideologically entrepreneurial against the Republican Party line.
The simplest explanation, maybe—if there is anything to a Dominion-painted target on his back, and even if there is not—is that Carlson was the voice at Fox with the greatest impact, and was a scalp worth taking even if voter fraud wasn’t his top concern. But why is it that his voice has such an impact?
If and when we have the good fortune to look back on this time, it is quite plausible all else about Tucker Carlson will be forgotten besides this: Carlson crossed the American national security state’s ideological Rubicon. Dominion Voting Systems is a footnote in history. But the endgame for the war in Ukraine, and America’s hand in its perpetuation, is most certainly not.
Confronting unfettered immigration as a security risk, not a panacea, will define the century. Approaching trade negotiations as exchanges between humans and nations, not unaccountable transactions by econometric magicians, appears poised to reach welcome bipartisan consensus—the truest legacy of the first Trump term. And the convulsion of the Republican Party, transforming from the vehicle most responsible for the Iraq War to the major political organization most allergic to such a worldview, does merit the cliché but still true moniker of political realignment.
Carlson’s work has propagated all of these perspectives and causes. And very influential people in American life disagree with them. And for that he had to go.
If this sounds dramatic, for his part, Carlson himself is talking this way. Carlson now predicts a “hot war” with Russia before Election Day 2024. He said so in comments to Adam Corolla, himself a sort-of Hollywood Trumpist tribune as the house conservative of the old Jimmy Kimmel set.
And the Russians, never failing to up the ante, are putting out signals that they think Carlson could be assassinated. Carlson, finishing out a prophetic triangle of death, has warned that Trump could be taken out, should his legal battles fail to derail his progress back to the White House.
I am biased, but in many ways Carlson’s present course is the next expression of a war he became the central combatant in six years ago. The Moscow-born Max Boot—the former Weekly Standard and Wall Street Journal writer, advisor to Marco Rubio in his neocon days, and adherent of Mitt Romney in his past and current form—called Carlson “immoral” for his foreign policy views in a throwdown on primetime.
I had occasion to interview both men. Boot denounced me in Commentary for having “provided space for the scourge of the neocons to spew more of his juvenile abuse.” And at the height of a potential war with Iran, in January 2020, I appeared on Carlson’s program warning against further escalation. It is, thankfully, one war that never happened. Today, Trump’s lethal strike on Qasem Soleimani looks among the most prudent, or at least risk-free, decisions made by the Iran hawk contingent, but only because America avoided a wider war.
Carlson, too, is biased. His past proximity to the Biden family has led him, in my assessment, to underrate Biden’s political talent, because he had seen the worst of the man up close. The profoundness of Biden’s physical and mental transformation by the end of the 2010s led many, including both Carlson and Barack Obama (hardly compatriots), to conclude that Biden couldn’t triumph in the presidential search.
But that wrong line in 2020 could be the right read in 2024.
Carlson believes that is what’s so dangerous: That Biden was diminished, but not diminished enough to lose, in 2020 does not, in turn, mean that Biden has not declined still further. Correspondingly, Biden’s further decay does not mean that the man who has been a national politician for five-eighths of his long life will just take his Corvette and go home.
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And here Carlson’s closeness to the powerful, and thus his predictions, such as a hot war with Russia, should be taken deadly seriously.
In his upcoming biography of Biden (a genre of which there is a strange paucity), the journalist Franklin Foer writes that the president was chagrined that aides walked down his notorious, unscripted outburst in favor of Russian regime change. Biden remarked that aides never “babied” President John F. Kennedy in that manner. Biden, per most extensive reporting, models himself on the first Irish Catholic president.
It may be lost on the 46th president that the 35th is remembered for avoiding war with Russia, while he seeks to go down in history by risking one. The danger of this moment does not stop there. For Carlson does not believe the president who once said “for God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power” will change his mind, or willingly take his own advice.