DES MOINES, Iowa ― Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host and racist “replacement” theory proponent, brought his familiar message that the “ruling class” wants to manipulate everyday Americans to a high-profile stop Friday on the Republican presidential nomination circuit.
In 42 minutes of meandering remarks with frequent tangents to attack his favorite targets and punctuated with his trademark cackle, Carlson did not suggest he would seek the White House but did tell the conservative Christian audience what to avoid when settling on a GOP nominee.
“You need to be really wary of candidates who care what The New York Times thinks,” he told the 1,800 seated before him.
He used as an example former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley after the police murder of George Floyd, when she posted a tweet saying that the Black man’s death was “personal and painful” to her and that healing would require that what happened next had to be “personal and painful” to everyone.
“And, of course, what happened next was personal and painful for everyone. Our cities burned down. A lot of people died,” he said. “And I thought, why should what happened between a cop and George Floyd outside a convenience store in Minneapolis be personal and painful to anybody else? What are you even talking about?”
“You’re trying to please the people whose opinions you actually care about at The New York Times,” he added.
Carlson ridiculed concern about climate change ― “Get your stupid wind turbines off there and slink back to New York!” ― supporters of transgendered people, and those, like Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who say the defeat of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin by Ukraine is a top foreign policy goal.
“I’m not a Putin defender, despite of what you may have heard,” he said, and then came back to mock that criticism later. “Putin, Putin, Putin, Putin, Putin!”
Frequently, Carlson returned to a theme he hits frequently on his nightly program, where he casts issues as struggles between the “ruling class” and his viewers, and he did so again with companies that have instituted policies to pay for their female employees’ out-of-state travel to seek an abortion, which he said was simply a part of their effort to discourage having families.
“That is the sickest message I can possibly imagine. That’s totalitarianism, by the way,” he said. “By the way, if life expectancy falls, if fertility rates fall, if testosterone levels fall, sperm count levels fall, all of which have, by margins that are unprecedented in American history, and nobody notices?
Carlson had a table outside the auditorium in the Iowa Events Center, where his staff sold Tucker Carlson baseball caps for $30, metal water bottles for $20 and bumper stickers for $2. One staffer said he did not know if Carlson was running for president but said he would pass along HuffPost’s query.
Although his name has been tossed around in Republican circles for several years as a potential 2024 candidate who would enjoy nearly universal name recognition and high approval among Republican primary voters, Carlson said in a recent interview that he had no interest in the presidency.
Yet his appearance at Friday’s event may have sent the opposite message ― with his own Twitter account posting: “As the 2024 race heats up, Tucker heads to Iowa to an event known for helping pick presidential contenders.”
For its 11 years in existence, the Family Leader’s summer event has become a high-profile destination for GOP presidential hopefuls. Last year’s summit, for example, drew former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.
The 2014 summit, which took place at the same point in the 2016 cycle, featured Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee ― all four of whom wound up running for the 2016 GOP nomination.
And the 2015 summit, which again had a full slate of presidential candidates, was where reality game show host Donald Trump famously said that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was considered a hero only because he had been captured during the Vietnam War and spent six years as a prisoner ― but that Trump preferred heroes who did not get captured.
The decision to invite Carlson came after Family Leader’s president, Bob Vander Plaats, heard him speak at last year’s funeral of Foster Friess, a longtime Republican donor who in 2012 almost singlehandedly kept alive Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign for months through millions of dollars in super PAC donations for the former senator from Pennsylvania.
Carlson has the top-rated cable news program in the country, having taken over the slot left by former Fox News star Bill O’Reilly, who was forced out after a sexual harassment scandal.
His program pushes themes popular in the Donald Trump wing of the Republican Party, in particular the “great replacement theory” that the changing demographics of the country is actually an insidious plot by wealthy Jewish financier George Soros and other “elites” to radically transform the demographics of America.
On Friday, though Carlson appeared to be popular among most attendees, many had not previously thought of him as a presidential candidate.
“I’d need to hear more about him,” said Lori Knudsen, a 66-year-old retired kindergarten teacher from Harlan, in the southwestern part of the state. “He has great moral values.”
Jennifer Morris, 52 and a real estate agent from Minnetonka, Minnesota, who traveled to Des Moines for the conference, said she would love for Carlson to run. “If Tucker was going to run, I’d vote for him in a second. I wish he would, but he probably won’t. He’s got a nice life.”
Carlson closed out the daylong conference, which early Friday had featured Christian music, speeches from pastors and an anti-abortion doctor who urged the audience to continue fighting against abortion rights now that the Supreme Court has returned the issue to the states.
The programming shifted after lunch, however, starting with a preview of a demonic possession movie by Iowa radio talk-show host Steve Deace and followed by Iowa Republican political figures, including Gov. Kim Reynolds and Sen. Chuck Grassley.