Why Fox's Carlson Is Promoting Fringe Presidential Candidates

Tucker Carlson
Tucker Carlson

Fox News prime-time star Tucker Carlson interviewed talk radio host Larry Elder yesterday, providing a platform for the previously failed political candidate to launch a seemingly improbable 2024 presidential campaign. But while Elder has virtually no chance of winning the Republican nomination away from disgraced former President Donald Trump, the real mission here may be for Fox News to recruit and promote its own pet candidates.

Elder previously ran for governor of California in the 2021 recall election, during which his long history of far-right political stances and election denial conspiracy theories helped to push incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom to a landslide Democratic victory.

Against that backdrop, Carlson introduced his guest on April 20: “He just ran for governor of California in a recall election against Gavin Newsom. He came up short after the state's media united to call him a white supremacist. Still makes us laugh. It’s pretty offensive, actually. But he is not deterred. He has a major announcement for us tonight.”

While it’s certainly odd that a man who declined to run again for governor in 2022 would turn around and claim to be running a viable presidential campaign in 2024, on closer examination this fits well into a pattern of Fox serving as a platform for fringe candidates this year.

The network has remained primarily loyal to Trump, but Fox has also clearly been flirting with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a possible alternative. In that context, the network’s cultivation of other vanity candidates has a familiar air to it. Fox is essentially working to control the political discourse, with some similarities to the way in which a dictatorial regime puts up its own controlled opposition parties which continue to praise the regime’s party line.

In essence, by cultivating the crop of would-be presidential challengers, Fox is serving as an apparatus of the Republican Party itself, while also asserting its own political control. (One thing that has definitely become clear, is that Fox News is not in the journalism business.)

Carlson’s broadcasts also combine this pattern of controlled political opposition with a possible agenda to advance his own political power. In comparison to fellow Fox prime-time host Sean Hannity, who had been a longtime Republican operative and close Trump adviser, Carlson’s efforts to dictate the Republican political agenda have met with less electoral success.

As such, Carlson’s work thus far in reaching out to presidential candidates has been a mix of elevating fringe candidates while also getting more potentially serious candidates to adopt his fringe positions.

On the February 21 edition of his show, Carlson hosted frequent Fox guest Vivek Ramaswamy to announce his Republican presidential campaign. This in turn kicked off a wider Fox News tour for the right-wing gadfly, who Carlson praised as “one of the great talkers we've ever had.” (Since then, Ramaswamy’s campaign has raised less than $1 million from people other than himself.)

On the March 13 edition of his show, Carlson explained that he had sent a questionnaire to potential presidential candidates, seeking for them to parrot his own pro-Russian talking points against supporting Ukraine. DeSantis took up Carlson’s invitation with the most gusto, describing Russia’s war of conquest against a neighboring country as a “territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia.” This was seemingly a major get for Carlson — but then it triggered such a wider uproar that DeSantis tried to walk it back.

This past Wednesday, Carlson also hosted fellow anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert Kennedy Jr., with whom he has a long history going back years, and who has launched a spoiler campaign in the Democratic presidential primary. Carlson sang Kennedy’s praises while alleging a vast corporate conspiracy to silence the fringe candidate. “He’s not running to get rich. He's running to make things better, but he’s not allowed to have those conversations. He’s been censored,” Calson claimed. “Other media won’t even talk to him — he criticized their advertisers.” Carlson further described Kennedy as “Joe Biden's leading primary opponent.” (A poll published by USA Today to coincide with Kennedy's announcement showed him trailing Biden by a substantial margin among 2020 Democratic voters: 67 percent to 14 percent.)

Carlson has also developed a close relationship with the House Republican leadership, crafting revisionist propaganda in support of the far right’s assault on American democracy. Combined with his hosting of vanity presidential candidates, Carlson is seemingly throwing everything at the wall in the hopes that whatever does stick will serve to elevate his twisted political agenda.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.


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