Where do you go after losing your job as the most popular political pundit on television? For Tucker Carlson, newly ousted from Fox News under circumstances still being revealed, the answer could be a bid for the presidency.
In years past, when he was floated as a possible presidential contender, Carlson was adamant he would not run. Not in 2024—not ever. “I don’t think that way. I don’t want power. I’ve never wanted power,” he said in an interview last year. “I’m annoyed by things, and I want them to change, but I’ve never been motivated by the desire to control people.”
That position made sense when Carlson had his perch at Fox News. Why go through the trials of the trail when you can just talk on television instead? Carlson’s declaration, in the same interview, that his ambition in life amounts to “writ[ing his] script by 8pm” was, though self-deprecating, an expression of interest in influence and attention rather than direct exercise of state authority and the responsibility which comes with it.
A top Fox News show brought a huge audience, lots of rhetorical freedom, and a constant opportunity to whisper in the ears of power without having to shoulder its cares. Why give that up?
But now it’s gone, and the question of what Carlson will do next is predictably an object of fascination. The best-case scenario—a return to the kind of clever, longform journalism of which he proved himself amply capable before the pivot to talking head, and which he has reprised as recently as 2016—seems the least likely.
A move to some lesser right-wing outlet is barely more plausible. Maybe Newsmax, OANN, The Daily Wire, or a similar outfit would be able to cobble together an acceptable deal, and maybe Carlson will take enough of an audience with him to make that smaller pond feel more comfortable than confining. But, as The Atlantic’s Charlie Warzel observes, Carlson “has spent his entire career palling around corporate media and among Beltway elite.” Would he really “want to work on the fringes”? Newsmax hosts typically don’t get elaborate New York Times profiles.
Nearly the same objections apply to the prospect of Carlson striking out on his own, à la The Blaze Media’s Glenn Beck (another Fox News alum), Infowars’ Alex Jones, or podcast host Joe Rogan. The Jones comparison is Warzel’s hypothesis, and a Carlson-headed venture would offer a measure of prestige—or, at least, notoriety, which in this case amounts to almost the same thing—that Carlson joining an established outlet couldn’t match.
Carlson has the name recognition and personal funds to get something like this off the ground, and maybe he’ll do it. My instinct, though, is that the “script by 8pm” line wasn’t that serious, and that even successfully replicating Rogan’s success would feel like a comedown after Fox News.
As for Beck and Jones, yes, they make plenty of money, and occasionally they have a clip go viral enough to break into mainstream conversations. Still, rich and siloed doesn’t seem like Carlson’s vibe. He “respects” the choir, to borrow a word from his erstwhile colleagues at Fox News, but he unquestionably wants the rest of the congregation—not to mention the sinners outside the church house doors—paying attention, too.
And an unmistakable lesson of the last few years is that platform matters a lot where broad, national attention is concerned. There’s no exact comparison to make here, but consider the two most useful: Bill O’Reilly and former President Donald Trump.
Another former Fox News opinion-haver and ratings champion, O’Reilly is still pumping out books in his Killing X series—and selling millions of copies to loyal fans. But he’s all but disappeared from public life since being fired from Fox News under allegations of sexual misconduct in 2017. In fairness, O’Reilly is 20 years Carlson’s senior, and his broadcast career probably would have wound down sooner than later regardless. Yet it clearly didn’t die a natural death; being pushed out of Fox News made the difference. He’s not ruined, but neither is he relevant.
Then there’s Trump, who’s demonstrated that you can be literally the most-discussed man on the planet and still fade from view if you lose your primary platform for communicating with the public. If Trump can thus diminish without Twitter, Carlson can likewise diminish without Fox News.
He knows that, and it’s impossible to imagine he hasn’t considered the possibility of following Trump’s footsteps back into the spotlight with a GOP campaign for president. Carlson’s ally and fellow commentator Rod Dreher has already recognized how this ouster must have changed his calculations about getting into politics proper—and he thrills at the prospect of Carlson as a new means to push aside Trump while retaining key parts of his policy agenda.
“Nobody can question [Carlson’s] MAGA credentials, and his anti-establishment populism. But he’s also not dumb about MAGA, either,” Dreher wrote in a Substack post published shortly after the Fox News story broke. “Could he take down Trump? I think he could. I think he understands Trump very well—his strengths and his weaknesses. And he’s very quick on his feet, Tucker is, in a way [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis is not. And he has charisma to burn.”
I’m not sure Dreher’s vision of a Carlson-DeSantis ticket is realistic—but only because I’m not sure DeSantis, a sitting governor, would consent to play second fiddle to a show-less show host, even one so uniquely well-positioned for 2024. The core idea of a Carlson campaign as a viable threat to Trump’s continued hold on the Republican Party, though, is difficult to dispute.
One of Trump’s other challengers has already invited Carlson to join the race, and maybe he will. After all, what does he have to lose? Certainly not a job at Fox News.