Sykes: Yes—though it’s tough to say what it is, exactly. One thing Tucker doesn’t have is a set of coherent, conservative intellectual principles that he feels the need to stick to. He’s able to move with the tide. He understands that a lot of what motivates the conservative base now is insulting and humiliating people they don’t like, and he’s very good at that. He can channel a sense of victimization very effectively. He also has an ability to convince people that he’s going to tell them things no one else is going to tell them—exposing all the secret knowledge out there—and an ability to deconstruct liberal or progressive narratives in a way that other hosts, like Sean Hannity or Dan Bongino, really don’t have the ability to do.
Guys like Tucker are smart; they’re talented; they know what they’re doing. When Tucker pushes the replacement theory [that progressive elites are conspiring to replace white Americans with non-white people who will support the Democratic Party] or advances vaccine disinformation, it’s with a malice of forethought.
Vyse: What did you make of his recent trip to Hungary, in this regard? How do you see the significance of that?
Sykes: Something Tucker has been doing very effectively, and alarmingly, is taking ideas that have percolated in the fever swamps of the right and moving them into the mainstream. He’s given ideas like replacement theory a respectability—a forum they’ve never had before—which is appalling. Fox News ought to be much more concerned about it.
The trip to Hungary was a logical extension of this kind of thing. A fascination with post-liberal authoritarianism has been spreading on the right. There’s an intellectual constituency for it. I’m not sure how broad it is among the grassroots base, but clearly, there are people who have grown tired of American democratic values and want something more exciting, so they’re looking abroad.
There’s a long American history of ideological tourism and fawning over foreign dictators, mainly on the left—Lincoln Steffens going to the Soviet Union, for example, and saying, “I have seen the future, and it works.” Going to Hungary right now—as Viktor Orbán is ruling by decree, attacking universities, undermining the media, waging culture war at a very aggressive level—is normalizing and glamorizing an unapologetic, unsubtle illiberalism.
A short time ago, embracing someone like Orbán would have been way beyond the pale for U.S. conservatives. There’s a process of redefining American conservatism into a right-wing, European-style ideology, and Tucker Carlson, because of his position, is able to do that.