Hard as it is to believe, the first-of-this-cycle GOP presidential primary debate was a week ago tonight. Seems a lot longer than that, doesn’t it?
No doubt some folks are thinking exactly the same thing this morning, as the hype lead-up to – and the spin after the event – has already faded from most Americans’ memories. Polls show conservatives liked Vivek Ramaswamy’s performance, said Ron DeSantis did a passable job (except for the idiots doing memes of his supposedly “fake” smile), and even thought establishment woman candidate Nikki Haley looked “strong” and aggressive for her consensus pushing position on abortion and because by all appearances, she favors increasing the United States’ aid to Ukraine.
Of course, primary race frontrunner Donald Trump showed up in Georgia last Thursday evening, had his mugshot taken and instantly sucked about 95 percent of the oxygen out of the buzz balloon holding the hopes and dreams of the eight not-Trump candidates (that is, if you’re still inclined to include red-eyed former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson as a legitimate contender) from the night before.
Human nature is what it is, and Trump’s legal dilemmas are a much shinier object to a lot of people than re-watching clips of Chris Christie complaining about getting a question on UFO’s towards the end of the “official” debate.
Then there’s the interview Trump sat for with former Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, which was posted on the platform formerly known as Twitter, X (Trump re-joined X on Thursday night), which, according to reports, drew tens of millions of viewers at various times during and after the program. Some observers dispute the massive numbers, but there’s no denying that Trump draws an audience.
In an article titled “Trump-Tucker Carlson counter-debate video viewed more than 230 million times in 18 hours”, Christopher Hutton reported at the Washington Examiner:
“Former President Donald Trump's interview with Tucker Carlson received a staggering number of views, showing a different way to spread political messaging.
“Trump released a prerecorded 46-minute interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson at 9 p.m. on Wednesday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. While the decision not to appear on the stage was slammed by Trump's competition, Trump's interview got a significant number of views compared to the others. Carlson's interview post was viewed more than 230 million times as of 3 p.m. on Thursday.
“’231,000,000 Views, and still counting. The Biggest Video on Social Media, EVER, more than double the Super Bowl!’ Trump claimed in a Truth Social post. The video was also reposted 193,000 times and liked 664,000 times.”
Big numbers for sure, largely enhanced by the nature of X, which allows people to view the back-and-forth at their convenience. The Carlson/Trump chat only ran a little over 45 minutes, so it wasn’t like having to endure constant candidate interruptions and… commercials.
I didn’t see the interview “live”, meaning, at the time it originally was shown – the beauty of social media, where everything is available in perpetuity. But the event was definitely worth seeing, especially to contrast Trump’s performance with his competition talking it up in Milwaukee.
First and foremost, it seemed obvious from the outset that Tucker was going fairly easy on Trump. I don’t know if the host’s subdued demeanor was a condition settled upon beforehand, but Carlson is notorious for hitting his interview subjects pretty hard with direct, probing questions. Tucker didn’t pry this time, instead tossing out an inquiry and letting Trump pretty much run with it without many interruptions or cross-examination.
The others at the Fox News debate had to compete for speaking time, often by raising their hands and saying something out of turn, terrified that an opponent’s jab or point would go unrebutted. Trump just talked, unfiltered stream-of-consciousness on an adult level. The former president even used the word “bullshit” in an attention-grabbing moment.
One example was when Trump talked about some of his former underlings, and mentioned Bill Barr. Tucker interjected that he’d read Barr’s book and asserted that the former Attorney General flat-out lied about teen girl exploiter Jeffrey Epstein not killing himself, from which Tucker sought Trump’s opinion on the matter.
Trump was non-committal on the Epstein controversy, but did seem to know the details of what happened back then and was also familiar with the two sides to the story. But who would’ve ever guessed Trump would be asked about Jeffrey Epstein at the same time his fellow GOP competitors were offering their views on Ukraine, abortion and “Bidenomics”?
Personally, I looked forward to Carlson performing one of his typical interviews where subjects were challenged to explain themselves on provocative subjects. As expected, Tucker did ask Trump about January 6 and the current legal witch hunt indictments against him, and the former president was given free rein to explain whatever he wanted.
The establishment media freaked out when Tucker queried Trump on whether he believed there would be a civil war because the left hates him so much, but it didn’t seem like what Trump replied was out of the mainstream. Trump said there’s a great deal of passion and patriotism among his supporters – and there’s also a great deal of hate for what the Democrats have done to this country. Trump didn’t say this combination of emotions would lead to a civil war, but he didn’t exactly dismiss the possibility outright, either.
About the January 6 crowd, which Trump claimed was the most significant he’d ever confronted: “I think that the biggest crowd I've ever spoken before was on January 6. People in that crowd said it was the most beautiful day they've ever experienced. There was love in that group. There was love and unity. I have never seen such spirit and such passion. And such love.” … “But at the same time, I’ve never seen such hatred of what they (the Democrats and deep state) did to this country.”
Unsurprisingly, Tucker didn’t press for too many Trump-ian opinions on his Republican opponents, but Trump did say specifically that he wouldn’t look favorably towards “Ada” Hutchinson winning the nomination, and suggested that Chris Christie remains vindictive and vengeful towards him because Trump couldn’t find a place for the New Jersey bomb thrower in his administration.
Trump’s demeanor was calm and very controlled throughout the 45 minutes of interview time. It seemed evident to me that Trump sought to convey a gentler Trump to the likely massive audience. He controlled his rhetoric and the tone of the exchange was noticeably milder than a normal Trump appearance. I wouldn’t say Tucker went too easy on him, but Trump clearly didn’t see the former Fox host as an antagonist the way he did CNN’s Kaitlin Collins a couple months ago (or whenever it was).
Trump was asked how he was able to remain calm in the face of so much legal noise going on around him, spurred on by Joe Biden and the Democrats. Trump called them “savage animals”, people that are sick. “These are sick people… I think they hate our country if you want to know the truth.”
As to why his overall approval numbers aren’t higher, Trump explained, as he’s said before, “People said they like my policies but they don’t like me. I think they like me.” From my standpoint, I believe Trump has lost some conservatives and Republicans due to his harsh rhetoric towards Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who many still see as his main competitor for the 2024 GOP nomination. I was going to suggest DeSantis is a “rising star” in the party, but DeSantis’s record means he’s already become a star for Republicans.
Trump will begin the reconciliation process at some point (again, assuming his lead holds), but he can’t afford to burn too many bridges before the primaries end. Many “anyone but Trump” conservatives are already hoping most of the not-Trump candidates will leave the field so they can consolidate behind one challenger and make it a tighter either-or type contest.
Trump no doubt wishes they all stay in until Super Tuesday of next year. By then, it will be too late to beat him. But it won’t be as easy to get everyone together as it was in 2016. There’s too much history there.
As for his Democrat opponents, Trump said Kamala Harris speaks in rhyme (which drew a puzzled reaction from Tucker), and, “I think they (Democrats) will have some sort of a primary and other people will get involved.” He said he actually got along very well with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, but the slick-haired executive’s reputation was already established (in terms of turning California into a leftist “woke” trash pit) and he wouldn’t work nationally.
Lastly (there’s more, but you have to end somewhere), Trump said, in order to ensure fair elections, go back to the old days. “The Democrats don’t want voter ID because they want to cheat…We should go back to voter ID, paper ballots, same-day voting. France did it… Any time you have all mail-in voting you’re going to have massive cheating.”
Here’s thinking Trump’s Republican opponents in the primary would win attention and favor by advocating for the same thing. The term “outside the margin of fraud” should be on the lips of all Republicans this year, including the candidates who are running solely to oppose Trump.
Donald Trump’s interview with Tucker Carlson was a stroke of genius for both men, and apparently drew an enormous audience. Folks who saw it experienced a different side of Trump than they normally see in the establishment media. Trump alone touts elections integrity as a main issue for Republicans. Will it change the 2024 outcome? Yet to be seen. But there’s still time to fix some of the glaring problems leftover from 2020.
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