Democrats – and to a lesser extent, Independents – sure are feeling confident these days. Between President Trump’s declining poll numbers and tanking approval ratings, the incumbent’s prospects of being reelected have never been on shakier grounds.
Half the time, the pundits can barely hide their delight when reporting on Trump’s misfortunes — even though his struggles primarily stem from a set of national crises that are absolutely wrecking the lives and careers of the citizens they pretend to be saving from this administration.
There’s a sense of righteous overconfidence overflowing from the Democratic establishment, as if the virus and its consequences are a kind of divine intervention, here to save the affluent liberal class from the Great Offender of their “elite” sensibilities.
After all, the President was cruising to a second term before the pandemic, the economic depression it triggered, and the subsequent civil unrest all contributed to shattering Trump’s legitimacy in the eyes of large swathes of his supporters.
Now, Trump finds himself in such an overwhelming deficit – trailing Joe Biden by a double-digit margin nationally — some Democratic strategists suggest he’ll drop out, making way for a last-minute replacement Republican candidate.
At least, that’s what they’d have you believe.
Staffers on the Trump campaign have repeatedly argued that the pollsters are biased and that the results flaunted by the media are nothing more than suppression tactics — an attempt to convince conservative Trump supporters that showing up to the ballot box is a pointless endeavor.
All of the readily available public data is pointing towards a humiliating landslide defeat. But if that’s true – if Republicans indeed are abandoning the President in droves, disillusioned by his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and response to the Black Lives Matter protests, then I have one question:
Why is Tucker Carlson dominating cable news’ ratings game?
He shares many of the same opinions as the President with whom there appears to be mutual respect – hell, he even met with Trump at Maralago earlier this year to advise against further military escalation in Iran.
If the Republican candidate’s policy positions and handling of current events are so unpopular, why is a show trumpeting those same beliefs breaking viewership records?
We know from the rise of “cancel culture” that his ratings can’t be a byproduct of hate watching; liberals don’t believe in entertaining or “platforming” opposing opinions.
There’s a real market for Tucker’s brand of populist conservatism, and it’s growing larger by the week.
Tucker Carlson Tonight’s Record-Setting Ratings
According to Nielsen Media Research, for the second quarter of 2020, the Fox News host’s primetime program averaged a record-breaking 4.3 million viewers per night. Not only did Carlson surpass his network colleague, Sean Hannity, but he’s also blowing out everyone in cable news – at a time when viewership numbers for cable news are exploding across the board.
Between the lockdowns and unlimited supply of fear on tap, all three major partisan networks are thriving. CNN’s primetime lineup of Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, and Don Lemon drew an average audience of 1.8 million viewers during the second quarter. MSNBC’s block featuring Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell finished second with an average of 2 million viewers.
So, while it’s true that everyone’s ratings are up, across the board, Tucker Carlson Tonight’s average audience is double that of his liberal cable news counterparts.
- If Carlson is broadcasting a message closely aligned with Trump’s brand of conservatism and drawing record-setting audience numbers, doesn’t that suggest significant levels of support for the policies?
- Does the success of Tucker Carlson Tonight hint at inaccuracies in the polling?
- Or are Republicans firmly in favor of the 2016 Trump campaign’s promise of right-wing populism, but have lost faith in the President himself?
Tucker Carlson 2024?
Carlson’s popularity has grown so immensely, that some within the Republican Party are considering the Fox News host for a 2024 presidential run of his own. Former Trump administration and campaign officials see Tucker as the perfect candidate to continue the legacy of the President’s brand of conservatism – a mix of America-first isolationism and economic populism, with strict immigration laws.
“He’s a talented communicator with a massive platform. I think if he runs, he’d be formidable,” said Luke Thompson, a GOP strategist.
The Future of the GOP
The success of Tucker Carlson Tonight raises some critical questions for Republican officials. The Bush-era establishment neocons have mostly fled the party, allying with centrist Democrats to form the base of a new uber-corporatist conservative Democratic Party.
They may not agree on every social issue, but they like foreign military intervention, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, cheap labor flowing across the border, and – most importantly – hate Donald Trump.
The influx of college-educated, affluent, suburbanites effectively trampled the growing populist left movement led by Bernie Sanders during the primaries, hinting towards a party re-alignment coming soon.
Conservatives must tailor their messaging to target the working-class, as the two parties become increasingly divided along economic lines. A populist economic message will appeal not only to the growing number of American workers, utterly abandoned and discarded by decades of neoliberal policies but a large section of former Bernie Sanders supporters who may otherwise consider themselves “left-leaning.”
That’s how Donald Trump won in 2016; he hammered Hillary Clinton on trade. Particularly NAFTA, the trade agreement signed by Bill Clinton, responsible for decimating the manufacturing industry in the US.
Unsurprisingly, the areas most impacted by both parties’ prevailing policies on trade went to Trump, the political outsider calling out the establishment on both sides.
The Populist Right
However, if the Republicans lose the White House (and potentially the Senate), party insiders may come away with a different interpretation of events.
There will be a considerable push to return to the Bush-era neoconservatism that defined the party before Trump.
The Fox News host recently warned his audience about the “vultures who wait just off stage to swoop in and claim the GOP for themselves once Donald Trump is gone.”
I tend to agree with Tucker Carlson’s appraisal.
Whether or not Trump wins reelection in November; 2016 was no fluke. The electorate’s thirst to elect an unconventional outsider was apparent from the beginning. The DNC and Hillary Clinton robbed them of a left-wing populist candidate, so they took the right-wing option.
Tucker Carlson Tonight has shown that the Trump brand of conservatism is as popular as ever – so, why is Donald Trump lagging so far behind in the polls?
I’d argue it’s because he hasn’t followed through on his populist promises. Yes, he’s renegotiated the country’s trade deals – even going so far as to engage China in a trade war. But he hasn’t returned the Midwest’s manufacturing jobs; he couldn’t if he tried.
I believe the pandemic presented Trump with an opportunity to demonstrate his allegiance to America’s working-class. Rather than pass a payroll guarantee or any of the other measures utilized by other countries to protect their labor force, the President panicked over his precious economy.
He did everything in his power to prop up the stock market and save the US’s GDP; the economic metric Trump continually pointed towards as proof that the country was thriving like it never had before. But your average worker doesn’t feel the benefits of a high GDP – not anymore.
When the President handed tens of trillions of dollars to Wall St while his Republican colleagues in Congress and the administration fought to give average Americans the minimum amount of financial support they could get away with, Trump’s fate was sealed. He followed the wrong advice, provided by free-market fundamentalist ideologues, and his credibility as an outsider was tarnished for good.
It Might Not Be Too Late
Tucker Carlson’s surging ratings prove that there’s an appetite for a specific style of modern conservativism. Americans are frustrated with the corporatist oligarchy’s ownership of both parties and terrified of the culture war being waged by liberals.
For Donald Trump to rebound, he’ll need to tap into that anti-establishment rhetoric he cultivated so well in 2016. It would help if he followed up the talk with some actual pro-worker policies, even if he’s forced to battle Mitch McConnell publicly to get it done.
Whatever he chooses, if there’s one thing President Trump has going for him, it’s that one of his closest allies just so happens to own the country’s highest-rated cable news platform.