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Let's be clear: Almost no one thinks Tucker Carlson is running for president. But imagine if he did.
As tributes to the former Fox personality poured in from the GOP Monday — “the most important and powerful voice in politics today,” the high-octane conservative Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) was quick to tell POLITICO — speculation immediately centered on what Carlson, who occupied Fox’s influential 8 p.m. perch, would do next. Head to talk radio, like the late Rush Limbaugh? Jump to a right-leaning rival like One American News Network or Newsmaxor even, uh, Russian state TV, all of which openly courted him in the hours after news broke of his departure? Start a Substack?
And then there’s the longest shot: Enter the 2024 Republican primary. POLITICO invited a murderer's row of GOP strategists to play pretend — and act like a general consultant to a hypothetical Carlson presidential bid. We asked them to vet his strengths and weaknesses in a 2024 campaign, and solicited pointers on how they’d advise him.
Some urged him to get in quickly. Several advised the Fox star to go directly after Donald. One even joked that he should launch a ticket with his fellow freshly ousted cable exile Don Lemon.
One would-be 2024 primary competitor even goaded Carlson to join the fray. “I think he'd be a good addition to the race,” Vivek Ramaswamy told POLITICO in an interview Monday, hours before he had initially planned to join Carlson’s show as a guest. “I think someone should only do this if they feel called to do it, but I think it'd be good for the country if he got in, to be honest with you.”
Here’s what the rest of our impromptu panel had to say:
Dave Kochel, veteran Iowa Republican strategist:
“I can't wait to see the look on some of these people's faces who are cheering Tucker Carlson's demise when he announces for president. They’ll be like, ‘Oh, shit.’”
“He had three-and-a-half million viewers … Obviously, his show was a bigger cultural phenomenon than just that. He’s well known to 20 million people, probably, but all of them are political watchers. I guess anything is possible. And we live in the stupidest timeline ever. I just don't see it happening.”
“Could he win an Iowa Caucus? I mean, Mike Huckabee did. I do think Iowa caucus voters are probably more sophisticated than that to think, ‘well, we're mad that they took him off Fox News, let's give him White House as a consolation prize.’ But then again, he's very good at understanding where the parade is headed and jumping in front of it.”
Dave Carney, New Hampshire Republican strategist:
“What would be the nickname that Trump gives him?”
But Carney thinks Carlson could have a case to make: “He could actually indict Trump’s record as president more seriously than anyone else. ‘He always promises, doesn’t deliver,’ things he alludes to sometimes during his show. I don't think he would have any fear of going right after Trump and inheriting some of that support and peeling it off. Every vote he gets will be out of Trump's hide and really impact the race dramatically.
Still, he said, “I think if he’s running, the departure would have been better handled.”
Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former adviser to Marco Rubio’s 2016 and Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 presidential campaigns:
“I think it depends a little on what terms he left Fox under. I think a lot of the presidential primary is going to play out on Fox. In fact, a lot of it was playing out on his show. I think if Fox is really turning the page on Tucker Carlson, and are not going to give him airtime to promote his campaign, that would be a real challenge for him. It appears that he certainly did not decide that he no longer wanted to be the top-rated anchor on cable news.
“If he's going to run, my advice would be to not wait too long. The presidential campaign has already begun. While voters haven't necessarily tuned in, there's a lot already happening in the early states and with donors, and I think anyone who wants to run for president can't wait.”
Chuck Coughlin, Arizona political strategist:
“I can’t see that’s the best use of his time to go do something like that.“
“Clearly he’s got a lane, but it’s in direct competition to Trump, and similarly if not even more so, he’s got an even bigger challenge of how to get outside of the path which has condemned all the Trump candidates to losing since 2018. He can’t win unaffiliated voters, and he’s clearly not going to win Democratic voters. He’s a base motivator.”
Beth Miller, Republican strategist in California
“As crazy as it may sound, we have certainly seen crazier, and Tucker Carlson has strong name ID … He certainly has a base from his years on air with Fox News, and one of the things we know about Fox News viewers is they do tend to vote.”
On the other hand, Miller said, “He certainly would bring in a lot of baggage, and opposition research would have a field day … I haven’t read through all of his transcripts on all of his shows, but my guess is over the years he’s taken some interesting positions that could come back to haunt him.”
Charlie Gerow, a Republican strategist who is vice chair of the Conservative Political Action Committee:
“There’s no doubt that he has a following, that he has the name identification and political base to build a national campaign if he chose to do that. It would take an awful lot of work, and again, [with Trump] he’d be running against an incumbent in his own party, in effect, which is never an easy path.”
On the other hand, Gerow said, “He’s been on television more than Donald Trump was when he came down the escalator.”
He recommended that if Carlson wants to run, he “take whatever severance package Fox is giving him and put it into a campaign account immediately, and then carve off a sizable chunk for me.”
And, the vice chair of CPAC said, “He has to be at CPAC next year.”
Mike Madrid, the Republican strategist who was a co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project:
“If he wanted the nomination, I think he’s really the only person who could beat Donald Trump. He’s truly the tip of the spear on defining what Republicans are going to be opposed to on literally any given night. He has the platform, he has the audience, he has the influence.”
Madrid said that if he were advising Carlson, he would “start the media chatter that this is happening” by “prognosticating about the future of the country in written form … He can say, ‘This is not the end, this is the beginning.’”
“In many ways, it’s kind of like where Trump was in 2015,“ he said. “People weren’t really thinking about it, it wasn’t a real thing … What Trump really showed and proved is that the Republican base is anti-establishment, right? It’s counter-cultural, and that’s literally what Tucker has been articulating, is a counter voice against the establishment, as it were. And that celebrity is what they look for.”
Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist
“Start slow, do some rather conventional things, like pop into early states … You’ve got to get out there and measure how people would react to you being a candidate without you just instantly becoming one.”
More than most candidates, Stutzman said, Carlson has time. “He has the advantage of being famous, so he doesn’t have to start as early as Asa Hutchinson or Tim Scott.”
“But my goodness, talk about epic pay-per-view, pro wrestling, Trump vs. Carlson must-see TV. The internet might melt.”
Like most Republican strategists, Stutzman would be surprised if Carlson actually pulled the trigger. Speculation about a potential candidacy, he figured, was always more a statement about how powerful Carlson had become, not about his prospects of running.
If he does run, Stutzman added, “Will Don Lemon be his running mate?"