June 3, 2023

When Joe Kent ran for Congress last year, he was a political neophyte who challenged a six-term incumbent congressman for the Republican nomination. But he also had one of the most valuable drivers in Republican politics: now-former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Mr. Carlson made Mr. Kent a regular on his primetime show, which in turn helped create Mr. Kent’s campaign.

“I was up against a Republican backed by the full weight of the Republican establishment,” said Kent, who lost in the general election. “It was really important to be able to step on Tucker for free and have him say, ‘I hope you win, I agree with what you’re saying’.”

The experience of Mr. Kent mirrors what Mr. Carlson became a unique figure in the Fox News anchor stable until the network abruptly pulled “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and its host from its channel last month. Proponents and opponents alike say that Mr. Carlson’s political power was rooted in his ability to place people and ideas at the forefront of right-wing politics in front of the largest conventional conservative media audience.

“He really provided a populist nationalist platform in the traditional national media in prime time,” says Stephen K. Bannon, a former Trump adviser and editor-in-chief of Breitbart, a right-wing website. “He’s the only one.”

Whether he can play a similar role as a conduit between the far right and the mainstream without Fox is perhaps the biggest question Mr Carlson raises about his next move.

Last week he said he would be starting a new show on Twitter, apparently walking away from a $25 million Fox contract to do so. But the specifics of his plans – the platform’s mercurial owner, Elon Musk, tweeted last week that “we have not signed any agreement” with Mr. Carlson – remain largely vague, and Mr. Carlson did not respond to a request for comment.

Fox, which is negotiating with Mr Carlson over his departure and could try to block his move to another platform, has not commented.

“Whatever happens, it’s a paradigm shift,” said Jason Damata, the CEO of Fabric Media, a media and advertising consultancy.

The exact magnitude of the shift will depend on whether Mr. Carlson can break the precedent set by previous Fox stars. The anchors of Fox’s primetime block have long been among the biggest looming figures in conservative media. But their departure has had little impact on the habits of the networks’ viewers. Past stars like Glenn Beck, Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly have typically moved on to lucrative but unremarkable following acts.

Mr. Beck, perhaps Mr. Carlson’s closest analogue among his predecessors, achieved tremendous influence in the Tea Party movement after jumping from CNN Headline News to Fox News in 2008. After parting ways with the network in 2011, he started his own subscription-based streaming network, effectively trading a Fox-sized audience for tens of millions more in annual revenue from a relatively small number of loyal fans and mostly recedes from political prominence.

Mr. Carlson’s influence, like Mr. Beck’s, is closely tied to the specific nature of the Fox platform.

“Fox is on cable, it’s a channel they default to a lot of military bases, doctor’s offices, gyms — that’s where Tucker got so many viewers,” said Nandini Jammi, the co-founder of Check My Ads, a brand safety consultancy. , and formerly co-founder of Sleeping Giants, an organization that led campaigns to pressure companies to pull ads from Fox News. “That’s where Tucker drew so many viewers.”

“Are those viewers going to go through a conversion process by giving Tucker their email addresses, actively seeking out his content and supporting him?” Mrs. Jammi continued. “That’s a very hard business to build on.”

Ms. Jammi was skeptical of Mr. Carlson’s ability to maintain the same footprint on the shaky terrain of Twitter, a platform with a user base much larger than Mr. Carlson’s Fox audience but a much more difficult place to place a . Build a sustainable, dedicated following.

It was the access to the Fox audience that made Mr. Carlson’s show a coveted booking for right-wing activists, politicians and social media personalities, including many with large social media presences.

“We’re reaching more of a hardcore activist base,” said Mr. Bannon on his “War Room” podcast. “He reached a different audience — if you leave out the 75-year-olds, a lot of people who are businessmen and entrepreneurs, people who are nominally Republicans but not hardcore and, I would say, have relatively little information.” .”

To his opponents, this made Mr. Carlson a particularly troubling figure, familiarizing the conventional Republican public with far-right ideas. His shows – “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and its long brother “Tucker Carlson Today” on the Fox Nation streaming network – were instrumental in mainstreaming the idea of ​​the “great replacement,” a racist, anti-immigrant conspiracy theory prominent among white nationalists.

On a 2021 episode of “Tucker Carlson Today,” Mr. Carlson spent more than an hour interviewing far-right blogger Curtis Yarvin, who expounded on America’s need for a monarch figure who could empower the nation’s elites. break and establish a benevolent autocracy. .

“I don’t think you’re crazy,” Mr. Carlson said to Mr. Yarvin. “I think you’re pretty far out in a way worth thinking about.”

And some Republicans complained about Mr. Carlson’s elevation of politicians like Mr. Kent. Mr. Carlson took Mr. Kent to his online show ‘Tucker Carlson Today’ for an hour-long interview just four months after running against Jaime Herrera Beutler in southwest Washington state in early 2021.

The two kept in touch, and Mr. Kent became a regular on Mr. Carlson’s prime-time show during the primaries, eventually winning the support of Donald J. Trump and Mrs. Herrera Beutler, one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach. brought down. Mr. Trump after January 6.

In the general election, however, Mr. Kent was dogged by reports of associations with prominent white nationalists and Proud Boys and lost a solid Republican seat.

Mr. Carlson once included Mr. Kent in a segment championing a list of “emerging outsiders” in races across the country. The list also included Blake Masters and Kari Lake in Arizona, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, and JD Vance in Ohio.

All except Mr. Vance lost their November races.