Picking Tucker would be another sign that Trump has zero interest in catering to moderate voters and is all-in on trying to galvanize the MAGA base to turn up at the polls.
Former president Donald Trump has never thought small.
In a second term, he plans, among other things, to establish camps on the southern border to imprison millions of illegal immigrants, employ the Justice Department to target his detractors, including his former White House chief of staff John Kelly and Attorney General William P. Barr, and wipe out the leftist “vermin” who allegedly infest America.
So the New York Times and other outlets have reported in recent days, drawing on interviews with former administration officials close to Trump and on plans being formulated at a variety of conservative think tanks in Washington, including the Heritage Foundation, which is touting its Project 2025—a sweeping plan to upend both domestic and foreign policy, partly by wiping out the nefarious deep state.
Yet today, the Times reports that Trump’s campaign is irked that his followers are saying the quiet part out loud. Trump’s team is pooh-poohing these news articles as “purely speculative and theoretical.” They are “merely suggestions.”
The problem, of course, is that Trump himself has been parading these views—most recently in a vitriolic Veterans Day speech in New Hampshire—even if his own team seems apprehensive that they will scare off the widely coveted moderate voters who aren’t interested in a right-wing jihad against the unbelievers.
The issue isn’t that Trump’s advisers don’t believe the things his Washington claque is promoting or take offense at them. They just don’t want them publicized. Their objections, in other words, are purely utilitarian.
How far will Trump himself go? One sign will be if he taps former Fox News host Tucker Carlson to become his running mate. At 54, Carlson needs a new gig—and a growing chorus of MAGA supporters is pushing for Trump to select him. Trump has recently indicated that he’s open to the idea: “I like Tucker a lot, I guess I would,” he said on The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show. Conservative activist Charlie Kirk endorsed it as a heavenly idea and went on to devote a podcast to it, declaring that it would create a massively powerful voting bloc. And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene chimed in on X, “There’s no one better than Tucker Carlson!”
For MAGA world, it would be bliss. But would it really enhance Trump’s electoral fortunes? Or would it put the kibosh on his plans to return to the Oval Office and reinstall his $50,000 golf simulator?
Picking Tucker would be another sign that Trump has zero interest in catering to moderate voters and is all-in on trying to galvanize the MAGA base to turn up at the polls. It’s a risky strategy, one that could boomerang not only on Trump but the GOP itself as it seeks to retain the House and recapture the Senate.
Certainly, running as Trump’s vice-presidential nominee would redound to Carlson’s benefit. He would be positioned, more than ever, to become Trump’s true successor. Like Trump, he’s never been a politician. Like Trump, he has a rabid following. And, like Trump, he’s a gifted demagogue.
But what’s good for Carlson might be bad for Trump. The two together would be a potent decoction, an explosive combination–the distilled essence of authoritarianism mixed with phantasmagoria. No one other than the already-converted would be likely to swallow it.
Put bluntly, the problem with Trump and his followers may not be that they are too Machiavellian. It may be that they are not Machiavellian enough. In telegraphing their plans, they are putting Biden and the Democrats on high alert. It would be ironic if the very preparations that conservatives are making for 2025 end up undermining Trump’s ability to win high office again.
Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of The National Interest and is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. He has written on both foreign and domestic issues for numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, Reuters, Washington Monthly, and The Weekly Standard. He has also written for German publications such as Cicero, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and Der Tagesspiegel. In 2008, his book They Knew They Were Right: the Rise of the Neocons was published by Doubleday. It was named one of the one hundred notable books of the year by The New York Times. He is the author of America Last: The Right’s Century-Long Romance with Foreign Dictators, coming in 2024.