Whether President Trump wins or loses this November, the Republican Party will have to chart its course for the future. What does it mean to be a Republican? What does the party value, and what kind of country do its members want to create? The process of answering those questions will culminate in the selection of a presidential nominee, someone whose elevation will provide the answers to these questions.

While that process of introspection will depend heavily on the outcome of this year’s election, some in the GOP think they already have the answer to the kind of person they need: someone who has never run for office before, but is famous for saying racist things on television.

Alex Thompson of Politico reports that as Republicans look to 2024, they’ve got a terrific idea for who should lead them:

Tucker Carlson’s audience is booming — and so is chatter that the popular Fox News host will parlay his TV perch into a run for president in 2024.
Republican strategists, conservative commentators, and former Trump campaign and administration officials are buzzing about Carlson as the next-generation leader of Donald Trump’s movement — with many believing he would be an immediate frontrunner in a Republican primary.

So with Trump looking more and more like he’s headed for a loss, the answer is another television personality?

To be fair, people in both parties are sometimes tempted by the idea that when you see someone on TV saying something you like in a way you like, it means that person should be president of the United States. But in my experience, when you hear it from Democrats it’s far more likely to 1) concern actual politicians who have relevant experience, and 2) be little more than a fleeting notion.

For instance, when New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo began giving daily news conferences on the coronavirus pandemic and sounded both sensible and authoritative, I heard some Democrats say, “Man, why can’t he be the party’s nominee?” But Cuomo is a governor and was a cabinet secretary, so it isn’t a self-evidently ludicrous idea. And the sentiment faded quickly.

But for GOP insiders who are taken with the notion of a Tucker Carlson candidacy, it’s really an admission of defeat.

There’s a generation of Republican politicians who are extremely conservative and could, at least in theory, act competently as the head of the federal government, among them Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley. You might or might not like any one of them. But the idea of them doing the president’s job is far from absurd.

Still, if you believe that the party will inevitably end up with a TV personality as its nominee, you’re effectively saying that it will always be 2016. That year, the party had an unusually large field of candidates, including nine governors and five current or former senators, all experienced politicians who had won dozens of elections between them.

They were utterly crushed by a buffoonish reality TV star who had never run for office, but surmised correctly that what the party’s rank-and-file wanted was a vulgar, hateful demagogue, someone who would affirm their worst impulses.

Carlson is a more substantial person than Trump. Though his TV show has turned into a repellent forum for the airing of white racial grievance (see here or here or here or here or here or here or here or here or here), he could, for instance, tell you the difference between Medicare and Medicaid.

He’s also a more complicated figure than some other conservative media stars. He began his career as a magazine journalist, and a pretty good one, before moving to television. In 2003, he published a rather self-effacing and frank book about how cable news is a soul-sucking hellscape, corrupting even well-intentioned people who are lured into its depths as it turns them shallow and tempts them to join in its project of debilitating American democracy.

In a famous 2009 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, he argued that conservative news organizations ought to have a commitment to accuracy, telling the attendees that while they may not like the New York Times, it’s a serious news organization that attempts to report the news accurately. He was greeted with boos and jeers. Carlson subsequently started a website that now operates with only the barest pretensions to journalism, then returned to TV. In the Trump era, he met his moment.

But this isn’t really about Carlson as an individual, it’s about what he represents. When Republicans look at the wreckage that came from their decision to make Trump their leader, the conclusion some are coming to is that what they need is just a better TV personality: someone plays on the same grievances and resentments, but might be a little more competent if given the most powerful job in the world.

If that’s what you think, you truly have no faith in the Republican Party or its voters. But at this point, why would you?

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