When Donald Trump, the GOP’s presidential frontrunner, gave his first post-indictment interview, it was to Tucker Carlson on Fox News.
When Vivek Ramaswamy announced his candidacy earlier this year, it was on Tucker’s show.
And when Russia first invaded Ukraine, support for arming Kyiv against Putin’s assault was the same among Republicans and Democrats. Then Carlson began speaking out against Ukraine and America’s support for the Zelenskyy government. “I don’t care what Putin does in Ukraine,” Carlson said.
After a year of Carlson’s messaging, Republican support for backing Ukraine has plunged.
Monday’s news that Fox News dropped Carlson in the wake of a $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems is technically a media story. But because of the 53-year-old TV host’s influence on the GOP base, it is as much a story about politics as it is about ratings.
In the big picture, Carlson’s reach via Fox was relatively small. While he had the top-rated cable news show –indeed, he holds the record for highest cable news viewership of all time — his 3 million or so nightly viewers represent one percent of America’s population. (By comparison, CBS’s show “FBI” has about 8.5 million weekly viewers.)
But among Republican voters, particularly Trump-friendly activists, Carlson’s influence was massive. He turned news topics into political issues GOP candidates had to confront, and he focused the party’s base on policies like Critical Race Theory and ballot security.
“Tucker was the mainstay of the populist voice over at Fox,” former Trump advisor Steve Bannon said after the news broke. “With his departure, I don’t know why anybody needs to watch anything on the Murdoch empire.”
And Donald Trump, Jr. told right-wing radio host, Charlie Kirk, “It changes things permanently.”
Those changes are likely to be felt in the GOP presidential primary.
“Tucker leaving FOX means that maybe candidates can be themselves, rather than twisting themselves in knots in hopes of making Tucker happy, like DeSantis’ twists and turns on Ukraine,” former Republican National Committee political director Mike DuHaime told InsideSources.
Gail Huff Brown is a veteran Boston, Mass. news broadcaster who ran in New Hampshire’s First Congressional District GOP primary last year. She’s also the wife of former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown.
“I don’t know yet why Tucker Carlson was fired, but I have to admit it was a surprise since he’s a big fish in the Fox pond,” Huff Brown told InsideSources. “I do not think it will have a negative impact on Trump’s popularity in New Hampshire because Tucker will find a way to get his opinions out to his fan base via social media.
“Without Fox management having a say in Carlson’s opinions, he may be able to help Trump even more,” she added.
Speculation is rife that Carlson may follow other celebrities pushed out of their traditional media gigs and set up shop on Substack or some other new media platform. Former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly now has a very successful podcast, and the New York Times’ Bari Weiss began a multi-million media platform, The Free Press, after leaving the Grey Lady. And then there are the plethora of far-Right content providers, including Bannon and his online “War Room” program, drawing audiences without a television platform.
Does cable news still have the same impact on voters, particularly the GOP’s conservative base?
“It feels like all the alternative media would sap some of the energy out of cable news, but it feels like people in 2003 saying ‘broadcast news is finished,'” says Tim Graham, Director of Media Analysis for the Media Research Center. “It’s always too glib. Broadcast news still has the largest audience.”
Stephen L. Miller, host of the popular Versus Media Podcast, says the impact of Carlson’s departure “depends on what direction Fox News goes with Trump. Who they put in that timeslot will speak volumes about the network’s direction for 2024.”
On the stock market, Fox Corporation stocks fell three percent Monday, a sign of Carlson’s value to advertisers. But New Hampshire political strategist Perikilis Karoutas says he doesn’t expect a major shift in how GOP primary voters get their news, particularly in the home of the First in the Nation primary.
“We have a larger share of older voters than most states, and it’s hard to change people’s behavior,” Karoutas said. “People who watch Fox News every night after dinner aren’t going to stop because Tucker’s not there. It’s their habit.”