In an official capacity, national security adviser John Bolton is one of the worst influences imaginable for President Trump on Iran, assuming one does not want to dive into another unnecessary war in the Persian Gulf. Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are looking to dial up the pressure on Tehran from every angle, drafting a military plan involving the deployment of up to 120,000 troops to the region if Iran hastens its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and instantly blaming the country for a recent attack on two oil tankers at a choke point off its coast.
Thankfully, there is a voice of reason in the president’s call history, telling him to trust his gut and avoid the easily avoidable conflict: Tucker Carlson. According to a report from the Daily Beast, the Fox News host has been lobbying Trump in private not to take a hostile approach, questioning if a war with Iran would be “in anyone’s interest.”
On air, too, Carlson has been pitching his audience of one. In May, he took a swipe at Bolton, calling a conflict with Iran “Christmas, Thanksgiving, [and] his birthday wrapped into one.” And on Monday, Carlson compared Pompeo’s “misplaced certainty” in blaming the oil-tanker attack on Iran to the bad intelligence that the Bush administration flaunted leading up to the second Iraq War. The strategy appears to be working to buttress the president’s inclination not to engage in the region: Speaking with Time on Monday, Trump downplayed the oil-tanker attacks, calling them “very minor.”
Carlson’s influence on the president is another example of the private Fox News–to–White House information highway — though in this case, it’s much more pacifistic than the last instance, when host Pete Hegseth reportedly lobbied Trump to pardon a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes. It’s also not the first time that Carlson has touted ideas that aren’t totally consistent with his channel’s ultraconservatism.
Earlier in June, the Fox News host praised Elizabeth Warren’s “economic patriotism” that rehabs America’s dusty industrial policy. “She sounds like Donald Trump at his best,” Carlson said. Though Carlson’s attempts to persuade the president away from another Gulf conflict don’t seem to have an immediate downside, his support of genuine economic populism could be a harbinger of a dangerous movement within the GOP. As New York’s Eric Levitz writes, a truly populist approach “could allow Republicans to appeal to voters on bread-and-butter concerns, ease up on culture-war hysterics, and become a normal center-right party; or it could help them accrue just enough popular support to entrench xenophobic theocracy.”