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Tucker Carlson, Trump’s shadow diplomat

Tucker Carlson, Trump’s shadow diplomat

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BRUSSELS — Donald Trump has mulled naming Tucker Carlson as his vice president if he gets another term as U.S. president. But Carlson, the ex-Fox News journalist and polemicist, looks more like he’s auditioning to be Trump’s top international diplomat.

Since his ouster from cable TV, Carlson has been taking his new X show on a world tour, and his interviews with Argentina’s Javier Milei and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán have racked up hundreds of millions of views.

Yet Carlson is also engaging in a sort of shadow diplomacy.

In early November, he popped up in London to visit Julian Assange at Belmarsh prison. Eleven days later, Carlson was spotted on the streets of Madrid, alongside Santiago Abascal, leader of Spain’s far-right Vox party, amid protesters against amnesty for Catalan separatists.

“Your politics are complicated for an American,” Carlson told Spanish outlet El Confidencial. “I want to understand it and try to explain it.”

This week, Carlson released an episode of his X show entitled “Dublin in Flames” in which he spoke with Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist and long-time Donald Trump ally, about the riots sparked by the stabbing of three children and an afterschool teacher outside a primary school in the heart of the Irish capital. Carlson claimed that the Irish government is “trying to replace the population of Ireland with people from the third world.”

He’s even taken it upon himself to apologize for the behavior of the U.S. ambassador to Hungary during his August trip to Budapest. David Pressman, the current American envoy, is a human rights lawyer who has made no secret of the fact that he’s raising two kids with a male partner in a country that’s sought to ban showing LGBTQ+ content to minors.

“It makes me extremely embarrassed and sad as an American,” Carlson told The Hungarian Conservative. Accusing Pressman of trying to push his “bizarre sex politics” on Hungarians, Carlson added, “I want to say I’m sorry.”

Back to Budapest

August was not Carlson’s first trip to Hungary. His consistent camaraderie with Orbán might be a big factor in his current status as a freelancer.

Carlson’s prime time Fox show was broadcast from Budapest for a week in 2021, during which he interviewed the prime minister and took a helicopter to view a fence keeping migrants from crossing the Hungarian border.

According to a new book by the former CNN media reporter Brian Stelter, Fox executives hadn’t authorized Carlson’s weeklong mission there, and the flirtation with authoritarianism might have been a contributing factor in his dismissal. (There was also Carlson’s role in the defamation lawsuit that cost Fox $787 million for on-air lies that the 2020 U.S. election was stolen.)

Within months of his April ouster, Carlson was back in Budapest, interviewing Orbán for his X show. Carlson himself was interviewed by Balasz Orbán, the prime minister’s (not related) political adviser, at a festival organized by the government-backed MCC think tank.

Participants hold an american flag during Tucker Carlson’s speech at the MCC Feszt | Janos Kummer/Getty Images

Carlson’s Fox show defied the conventional wisdom that “American consumers are not interested in the rest of the world,” he told the audience.

After successful episodes filmed in places like Finland, El Salvador and Hungary, Carlson said he planned to keep traveling. “The world is resetting completely,” he said, adding that the post-war order, including NATO, is collapsing.

Carlson credited his own interest in the wider world to “my dad’s job.” Richard Carlson was a foreign correspondent and diplomat in the George W. Bush administration before becoming a lobbyist. As the New York Times reported, the elder Carlson was on the board of a Washington lobbying firm hired to help burnish Budapest’s reputation, though he didn’t appear to play a role in his son’s coverage.

Tucker Carlson could not be reached for comment for this article.

‘La megaestrella’

Other than his interview with Trump — timed just as Trump’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination held their first debate — the biggest journalistic coup for Carlson’s X feed was his sit-down with Milei in Buenos Aires. Posted a month before the radical libertarian economist won some 56 percent of the vote in Argentina, the video now boasts more than 425 million views.

That number almost certainly wasn’t just curious Americans. A recent analysis by the Bogota bureau of the Spanish-language news service EFE found that Carlson’s statements frequently make the jump to Spanish-speaking audiences and go viral. That includes his comments about the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, concerns about vaccine safety, and claims that the 2022 election in Brazil was stolen from Jair Bolsonaro.

It’s unclear whether that influence applies to Hispanophones in Europe. But when Carlson showed up in Madrid — a visit arranged by the Vox-linked Disenso Foundation, according to a party spokesman — Spanish pundits were ready to provide context to their audience: “For the ignorant,” explained a columnist for República. “Tucker is America’s most influential commentator.”

Sánchez’s deal with the Catalan independence party Junts to give amnesty to separatists if they’d help him stay in government has been met with broad outcry, and Carlson helped spread the outrage.

“Anybody who would violate [Spain’s] constitution … to end democracy is a tyrant, is a dictator. And this is happening in the middle of Europe,” Carlson told OKDiario, which called him a “megastar” in a splashy headline.

Carlson’s mere appearance in Spain seems to have made more news than the interview with Vox’s Abascal that he was there to conduct. Unlike Trump, Miliei or Orbán, Abascal’s political fortunes have fallen since the hard-right party’s founding in 2018 — it lost half a million votes and 19 seats in this year’s parliament elections. Pablo Simón, a political scientist at Carlos III University of Madrid, questioned whether the party was really a good fit with Carlson’s brand.

Vox’s Santiago Abascal was interviewed by Carlson | Javier Soriano/AFP via Getty Images

Vox has “failed to succeed in using the messaging that has worked in other parts of the world — opposition to the 2030 Agenda, Soros — to get ahead in Spain,” Simón said.

While viewership of the Abascal interview pales in comparison to those with other right-wing titans, Carlson does seem to be drawing attention to the cause. A few days after he posted the interview, with a list of timestamps for discussion highlights including “George Soros,” “Low Spanish birthrate” and “Censorship in Spain,” it received a prominent reply.

“Many interesting topics,” said Elon Musk.

Aitor Hernández-Morales contributed reporting from Pamplona, Spain, and Claudia Chiappa from Brussels.

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