December 23, 2023 - 8:00am

Is Tucker Carlson entering his David Icke era? Icke himself certainly seems to think so. “Why doesn’t he interview me?” the new-age conspiracist complained on X this week, referring to an interview in which Carlson further elaborated on his beliefs about aliens. In the discussion, hosted by podcaster Tim Pool, the conservative commentator said:

It’s my personal belief, based upon a fair amount of evidence, that they’re not aliens — they’ve always been here. And I do think it’s spiritual. That’s my view. […] If the US government has in fact had contact with these beings and has entered into some sort of agreement with them, which is the claim of informed people, if that is true then that is a very very very heavy thing.
- Tucker Carlson

Since trying to recreate on social media the influence of the most popular cable news show in history, the former Fox host has embraced a quasi-spiritual journey of questioning everything. “I’m open to anything,” he replied when recently asked about Flat Earth theory. “How could I not be open to anything at this point? I mean, there’s been so much deception that you can’t trust your preconceptions.”

Accompanying this turn has been a further self-distancing from the conservative establishment. Last month, Carlson even went so far as to agree that the National Review founder and godfather of American conservatism William F. Buckley was one of the “great villains of the 20th century”, while erroneously taking aim at Winston Churchill for locking up members of the “opposition party” in 1940. 

For both liberals and conservatives, the story of the cable star who went native on X offers something like a comforting fable. This is particularly so ahead of an election year in which establishment figures are already lining up to denounce the influence of the social media platform. But such a focus overlooks a far more intriguing side to the second life of Tucker Carlson. 

While eager to subscribe to X’s apparent mission to embrace conspiratorial discourse as moral force, Carlson is also sharpening up his act as a shadow statesman. An interview on his X show has already paid fealty to Donald Trump, with rumours abounding that he is a preferred choice for running mate. A pre-election interview with Argentina’s Javier Milei racked up nearly half a billion views, with its influence spreading across Latin America. A well-documented friendship with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán continues, while recent trips to Europe have seen him visit Vox leader Santiago Abascal in Spain and even Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison. 

The real question, therefore, is whether Carlson can effectively work both camps. He has frequently dismissed the idea of running for office, though the Trump circus may offer him the opportunity to be both contrarian entertainer and politician. Yet Carlson’s Icke-lite turn poses another dilemma, not just for the commentator but also for the platform more broadly. Far from “unleashing” conservative voices, is it possible that Elon Musk’s “free speech” campaign, taken to its logical extremes, is simply becoming too weird for the mainstream American conservative discourse Tucker once pioneered? 

Here, the other great parable of the media oracle comes to mind. Network’s Howard Beale is the newsreader who shuns the autocue and embraces a messianic struggle against power and corruption on behalf of the people. The path is, of course, doomed. With each target and pronouncement demanding to be overshadowed by the last, Beale eventually burns himself out in search of the truth. Come 2024, Carlson’s big questions concerning everything from aliens to a spiritual struggle between good and evil may mean he finds himself more at home on the X podcast circuit than on the campaign trail.

Fred Skulthorp is a writer living in England. His Substack is Bad Apocalypse