Did we just witness the first GOP primary debate of the 2024 election?
After losing the Republican primary nomination to Donald Trump in 2016, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) pretty clearly fancies himself the next man up for his party. Last month he pointed out that historically, "the runner-up is almost always the next nominee," citing the histories of Ronald Reagan, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. Cruz is clearly eager to be heir to that tradition.
But he didn't look very presidential Thursday night, when he went on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show to abjectly beg forgiveness from conservatives for characterizing the Jan. 6 insurrection as a terrorist attack. Instead, the alpha onscreen was Tucker, who spent much of the segment chastising — humiliating — the senator. People noticed.
"Tucker could definitely win a Republican nomination," Jamelle Bouie, the New York Times columnist, wrote on Twitter.
"One of these two recently described themselves as well-positioned to be a future R presidential nominee," added the Times' Maggie Haberman. "Which of the two do you think actually is?"
Carlson "has an extremely popular show that's entirely devoted to shamelessly owning the libs," chimed in Substacker Aaron Rupar. "This makes him a frontrunner to become the Republican nominee for president."
This isn't entirely idle speculation. While the betting money is that Trump tries again for the White House in 2024, it's not a sure thing. And while Carlson has denied interest in running for the GOP nomination, Republicans are clearly interested in him. "If he has political ambitions, he has an opening," National Review's Rich Lowry said in July. "He has a following and a taste for controversy. He's smart, quick on his feet, and personable. Political experience matters less than it once did."
Indeed, Trump proved that political experience might actually be a drawback for prospective Republican presidential contenders. The former president didn't bring any governing experience to the White House, but he did bring a substantial showbiz background. Then he governed like an entertainer. The GOP base loved him for it.
That makes Carlson an obvious heir. And his Fox News show doesn't just give him a platform to own the libs — it also provides a great opportunity to dispatch any potential rivals for the GOP nomination. Which means that folks like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) might want to carefully consider any future invitations to go on Carlson's show. Ted Cruz's presidential ambitions took a body blow on Thursday night. Tucker might just be getting started.