There are some furrowed brows (as well as some furtive giggles) over Tucker Carlson’s recent hypothetical musings about what the president might do should he decide he wanted to lose his 2020 reelection campaign.
Maybe he would cut funds for E-Verify, gratifying businesses that profit from exploiting the low-wage labor of illegal immigrants (that’s ‘undocumented workers’ in weeny-speak), but hurting American workers. Maybe he would make cuts to Medicare. Maybe — most deadly — he would raise taxes on gasoline, something that would matter hardly at all to those East coast elites who don’t drive much but that would have an immediate effect on those in the heartland who tend to drive more and are on a tight budget.
According to Carlson, Trump is pondering all of these expedients and more.
I take it the hypothetic proposition — the thought experiment ‘What might Trump do should he want to lose the 2020 election’ — is just that, a sort of debater’s gambit. As far as we know (which, admittedly, isn’t all that far) Trump wants to be re-elected. Being president is hard work. Especially if you are Donald Trump, it crackles with ambient hostility and contempt. But by all appearances, Donald Trump enjoys the job; he is good at it; and he seems to savor the bubble-wrap hostility of whiners like Jim Acosta, Pencil-Neck Schiff, and Jabba-the-Nadler. Pop, they go, pop, pop, pop.
So I surmise that Carlson doesn’t really think that the president would prefer to lose the election. Given everything we know about Trump, ‘losing’ is not in his vocabulary. Should he decide over the next year that the job was too much for him — he is, after all, on the wrong side of 70 — I think he would decline to run and bow out gracefully. (Well, he would bow out somehow.)
No, what Tucker Carlson was doing in that brief monologue was outlining some of the (many) things about which he disagrees with the president.
A few observations. First, policies that an administration may ponder are not necessarily policies they plan to enact. Sometimes they are trial balloons, ideas they can float by discussing in order to gauge public, or expert, sentiment. Sometimes they are like contingent war plans. Just because the Pentagon has a plan to invade Luxembourg does not mean it is planning to invade Luxembourg. Like the Boy Scouts (remember them?) their motto is, or should be, Be Prepared.
Second, criticizing those various ideas — higher taxes on gasoline, etc. — gave Carlson the perfect foil for proposing some policies of his own, taxing the trillion-dollar internet retailer Amazon, for example, whose business depends crucially on an infrastructure that it exploits without supporting.
Third, this monologue, like many other statements from Tucker Carlson, illustrates something about him that his enemies, as well as many of his friends, are loathe to acknowledge. It is this: though he is conservative, and though he is a sharp and effective critic of many of Trump’s enemies, he is by no means an unreflective supporter of the president. On the contrary, he dissents from Trump on many issues — from his policy in Syria to the slate of possible domestic initiatives he mentioned in his recent monologue.
This is the hardest thing for the Left (and, again, some ditto-head elements on the Right) to swallow: there are some independent commentators out there who call the shots as they see them and offer commendation or criticism on the basis of their own principles, not on the basis of parti pris. When it comes to the virtue of independence, Tucker Carlson leads the pack.
This fact causes painful disturbances in The Narrative. Fox News is supposed to be mindlessly partisan. Between us, some of its commentators behave in a way that support that contention. But Tucker Carlson is one who does honor to the network’s motto, ‘Fair and Balanced.’ True, he has a sharp wit. And, like William F. Buckley Jr. on the old Firing Line, he is adroit at letting his guests hang themselves with their own nonsense. But he is also scrupulously fair. He has convictions. He is not afraid to speak up in support of them. He does not mindlessly follow any party’s political script.
What makes this painful for The Narrative is that Fox News in general, and Tucker Carlson in particular, are regularly presented as thoroughly politicized, as mouth-pieces for the Right or (when they think they can get away with it) for the ‘alt-right.’ When it comes to Tucker Carlson, anyway, the only script that he follows is the script of his own conscience. I know that is a great disappointment to the Gadarene herd baying for his blood. But it happens to be the case, as this recent monologue shows.
Speaking for myself, I believe that Donald Trump will run in 2020. Moreover, he will want to win, and (should the economy continue on something approximately its current course) he will win. No politician is all things to all people. None can, or at least does, keep all his promises. In my view, Donald Trump has been more determined and more successful than most in keeping his promises. For that reason, I think that he will prevail, and prevail handily (again, provisos noted) in 2020.