Earlier this year, Fox News’s prime-time lineup featured a host named Tucker Carlson. For unclear reasons, Carlson was fired by the network, and ever since he’s been trying to find his footing.

His current play is to host a sporadic “show” on Twitter which, in practice, means lengthy diatribes offered directly to the camera and then tweeted out. Whether this constitutes a violation of his severance agreement with Fox News as competing product will be adjudicated in court, though it seems very fair to assume that the extent of the “competition” is limited. His first “show” got tens of millions of views under Twitter’s extraordinarily generous and self-serving metrics, but the impact on the national conversation was minimal, to again be generous.

This is undoubtedly frustrating for Carlson. His goal was to use his platform at Fox to reshape right-wing politics, and he was having some success. Now he’s spending the 17 months before the 2024 election trying to recreate that power however he can.

As you are likely unaware, that effort included his most recent “show,” a 13-minute speech posted on Twitter on Tuesday evening. The ostensible predicate for the program was the arraignment of former president Donald Trump in a federal courthouse in Miami on criminal charges. But Carlson’s polemic instead went a different direction: trying to center his own foreign-policy philosophy as the true target of the federal government’s anger.

“They knew this was coming,” Carlson said of the indictment. “Everyone who’s paid attention knew it was. What just happened was always going to happen. It’s been inevitable since Feb. 16, 2016. That’s the day Donald Trump made a blood enemy of the largest and most powerful organization in human history, which would be the federal government.”

What did Trump do on that day? Well, nothing. But on Feb. 13, 2016, he participated in a debate with other contenders for that year’s Republican presidential nomination. And during that debate, he made a comment about the war in Iraq that Carlson excerpted.

“We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East,” Trump said. “ … They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction, there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.”

By claiming that the government lied, Carlson claimed, “he sealed his fate. That was the one thing you were not allowed to say because it implicated too many people on both sides, which on this topic is really just one side. … They all lied. And to a person, they hated Donald Trump for exposing them.”

Hence, the relentless effort to dismantle him.

If you were around in 2015 and 2016, you will notice that this is nonsense. The establishment within the Republican Party was trying to take Trump out well before Feb. 13, 2016. (Or the 16th, for that matter.) It wasn’t because he was ostensibly opposed to the war in Iraq — which, of course, he actually wasn’t at the time it began. It was, instead, because he leveraged false fringe-right rhetoric to build a base of support that the party feared would submarine their electoral chances. Over time, that position was validated.

Trump said in an interview in 2008 that the war was predicated on “lies” from President George W. Bush. Largely because one of his primary opponents was former Florida governor Jeb Bush, George’s brother, and the leading Democratic candidate was Hillary Clinton, who supported the war, Trump repeatedly disparaged America’s entry into the conflict. In the very first presidential debate of 2015, he insisted that he alone had known the war was a mistake.

The snippet Carlson included in his tweet left out some context. Trump’s attack on George W. Bush came at the tail end of a furious back-and-forth in which Trump was attacking the former president directly. His “they lied” was not obviously about anyone except the Bush administration. But since Carlson has invested so much energy in positioning himself against the American military-industrial complex — and alongside Russia since that country’s expanded invasion of Ukraine — he pretended that this machinery of insidiousness only turned against Trump in that moment, because of those views.

“Trump’s prosecution isn’t just political, it’s ideological,” Carlson said. “Nobody with Trump’s views is allowed to have power in this country. Criticize our wars and you’re disqualified if you keep it up. We’ll send you to prison.”

“With Trump’s views” here meaning the views Carlson is attributing to him — meaning Carlson’s views. Trump was imperiled by federal charges because he hewed to what Carlson believes, because Carlson is so dangerous.

Never mind the other two asterisks here.

The first is that Trump’s opposition to military conflict is hardly well-established. He threatened conflict with North Korea and incurred an attack from Iran while expanding drone strikes within existing conflict zones and to new ones. That no new war began was likely more attributable to luck than “Trump’s views.”

The other asterisk is that the charges Trump faces are facially robust. He took documents from the White House intended for the use of the president and kept them even after leaving office. Asked to return them, he allegedly tried to hide them in defiance of a subpoena. One could argue, as Trump has, that this shouldn’t warrant a federal indictment. But there’s no question that these charges would not exist were it not for Trump’s own actions.

Carlson isn’t interested in that. He’s interested in presenting the central motivation of Washington elites as being foreign conflict because that positions himself as a locus of power. He does so because, by enlisting Trump as a warrior in his — Carlson’s — fight, he’s positioning himself as an equal leader of Trump’s movement. And, at the same time, he wants the right’s hostility toward elites to be centered on hostility to endorsements of military aid, particularly in this moment where he’s so energetically focused on undercutting Ukraine’s position.

“Trump is the one guy with an actual shot at becoming president who dissents from Washington’s long-standing, pointless war agenda,” Carlson said. “And for that, that one fact, they are trying to take Trump out before you can vote for him.”

Trump dissents only in that he wants to deploy the war agenda elsewhere, like Mexico. And “they are trying to take Trump out” is more accurately phrased as “federal prosecutors are trying to convict Trump on criminal charges” not obviously because they are worried that Ukraine will get more HIMARS systems but because they would prefer that former presidents not store top secret documents at their Florida event spaces.

The play Carlson is making here is obvious. But there’s one final caveat: It is probably also the case that relatively few people actually saw his video at all.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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