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 Kiev 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 First in the Nation 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 NHJournal.
Gail Huff Brown is a veteran 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 NHJournal. “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.
Radio talk host Jack Heath is a fixture in New Hampshire political media and a former news director at WMUR-TV. “I’m not sure Tucker Carlson’s absence on FOX will have a big impact, if any, on 2024 and the presidential race,” Heath said. “I think FOX has lost some overall punch as a news organization and viewership for a bunch of reasons which go beyond one host’s nightly show. But they are not alone. CNN seems lost these days, and I’m sure their numbers show it. People are tuning out to TV news across the country.”
On the stock market, Fox Corporation stocks fell three percent Monday, a sign of Carlson’s value to advertisers. But Granite State political strategist Perikilis Karoutas says he doesn’t expect a major shift in how GOP primary voters get their news, particularly here in New Hampshire.
“We have a larger share of older voters than most states, and it’s hard to change people’s behavior. People who watch Fox News every night after dinner aren’t going to stop because Tucker’s not there. It’s their habit,” Karoutas said.
Which is why, says veteran NHGOP consultant David Carney, the impact of Tucker’s departure “will depend on how they replace him. Yes, cable news is still huge with primary voters. Those other formats — social media, podcasts, Substack — are really one way and don’t have the visual impact of TV.”
And with or without Fox News, Carney said, “Tucker Carlson will still be loud and proud.”