Tucker Carlson’s interview with a German-language periodical this week included sharp criticism of President Trump.
“His chief promises were that he would build the wall, defund Planned Parenthood, and repeal Obamacare, and he hasn’t done any of those things,” Carlson said. “There are a lot of reasons for that, but . . . I’ve come to believe that Trump’s role is not as a conventional president who promises to get certain things achieved to the Congress and then does. I don’t think he’s capable. I don’t think he’s capable of sustained focus. I don’t think he understands the system. I don’t think the Congress is on his side. I don’t think his own agencies support him. He’s not going to do that.”
While the critique was more pointed than it has been in the past, Carlson has used broadly similar rhetoric on his show.
“Donald Trump is a volatile president,” he said after the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. “He’s impulsive, he changes course on a dime, sometimes without explaining why. He’s elusive about what he really believes. He talks and tweets about himself too much, too much for his own good or the country’s good. And by the way, he’s not always a great manager. The White House actually is pretty chaotic right now. That’s not just media spin, it’s real.
“Well, if you voted for Trump, you already know this, and you probably also knew this back in November when you voted for him,” he continued. “But what you also knew, and what is worth remembering right now, is there are worse things than what we currently have.”
He made that same point in July 2017: “Trump may be badly flawed, you can make that case, but the people who hate him have gone crazy, sometimes hilariously so.”
After the New York Times published an anonymous essay by a senior administration official criticizing Trump, Carlson expressed agreement.
“The piece does make a couple of points. The first is that the president is an unpredictable and mercurial boss who is light on policy detail and given to saying outrageous things,” he said. “That is true. If you have you ever seen him give a speech, you already know that. . . . [Trump] is exactly who you think he is. You either like that or you don’t. You voted for him or you didn’t. But he is not trying to fool you. He is not capable of fooling you.”
What Carlson clearly appreciates about the president is twofold: That Trump enrages their shared political opponents and that Trump advocates policies with which Carlson agrees.
There’s one particular position advocated by Trump that Carlson has specifically praised. After Trump traveled to Europe last year and gave a speech during a visit to Poland, Carlson was effusive.
Trump’s speech “may have been the single best thing he has said out loud since entering politics and for one reason: It was a rousing defense of Western civilization,” Carlson said. “Now you wouldn’t think speeches doing that would be unusual; the only reason you hire leaders in the first place is to defend your civilization. Especially ours, which is the foundation of pretty much everything we have. Our history, our language, our art, science, law. Our entire culture. America itself is the product of Western civilization. So you would think the people running the West would want to defend all of that. But, no, it was left to Donald Trump to do it.”
He played a clip of Trump’s speech in which the president praised “our ancient heroes” and the embrace of “timeless traditions and customs."
“The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive,” Trump said in the clip.
“Now, admittedly, President Trump is a polarizing figure,” Carlson said after the clip aired. “But the words we just heard him speak shouldn’t be controversial.”
Throughout Trump’s presidency, Carlson has repeatedly drawn fire, including from myself, for his advocacy of positions that overlap significantly with those of white nationalists. In July, he suggested that Mexico was interfering with U.S. elections by “packing the electorate” with migrants. In August, he ran a segment on the purported plight of white farmers in South Africa, a subject that has been a focus of white nationalist attention — and that earned Carlson praise both from Trump and from a number of prominent white nationalists. (Carlson later scaled back his initial claims.)
White nationalists themselves, while similarly appreciative of aspects of Trump’s policy, have also at times expressed frustration at his not implementing the changes he promised. The Southern Poverty Law Center has catalogued recent complaints from that community that mirror Carlson’s laments about Trump’s ineffectiveness.
For example Richard Spencer, the white nationalist filmed shortly after the election giving a Nazi salute and chanting “Heil Trump”, declared last month that “[t]he Trump moment is over, and it’s time for us to move on.”
“Trump basically had a year and a half to enact lasting immigration reform,” Spencer wrote on Twitter. “Trump didn’t seize this moment. He instead enacted Paul Ryan’s agenda.”
When Trump tweeted repeatedly Friday morning about the Mueller probe, the white-nationalist-sympathetic site VDare offered a response each time: “Don’t care, build wall.”
The wall was the first failure that Carlson identified, as well.
The interviewer from that German-language magazine, Die WeltWoche, also asked about how America might prevent an internal revolution — a prospect Carlson didn’t dismiss as a possibility.
“If you asked your average old person what’s the most upsetting thing about being old? You expect them to say, ‘Well, my friends are dead.’ But that’s not what they say. Or ‘I have to go to the bathroom six times a night.’ That’s not what they say,” Carlson replied. “You know what they say? ‘Things are too different. This is not the country I grew up in. I don’t recognize this.’ All people hate that. It doesn’t mean you’re a bigot, it means you’re human.”
The interviewer asked how important migration was in driving such change.
“It’s central, because nothing changes the society more quickly or more permanently than bringing in a whole new population — and that’s not an attack on anybody,” Carlson said. “There are lots of populations — there are lots of immigrants — who are much more impressive than I am. I have no doubt about that. I’m not attacking immigrants. I’m merely saying that the effect on the people who already live here is real and they’re not bigots for feeling that way.”
Bigots such as Spencer, however, do feel that way. They, too, lament that Trump hasn’t been as effective as they wished or expected.