Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Carlson Toying with "Alternate Debate" Plan

Tucker Carlson does not plan to fade away after having been fired by Fox, the way that Bill O'Reilly essentially has. He's entertaining various offers to host a podcast, or to appear on one of Fox's competitors, or maybe to stream a show that he himself owns and produces over the Internet. Further, in order to maintain some level of influence in Republican politics, Carlson is toying with the idea of staging his own GOP candidates' debate, an idea that already has some amount of buy-in from Donald Trump.

We find this news to be interesting for two reasons. First, we presumed that Carlson has a non-compete clause in his contract, and the linked story confirms it. He'll be paid by Fox until the end of 2024, assuming he does not start doing work similar to his duties at Fox. However, disappearing from the airwaves for 18 months, and missing out on an entire presidential cycle, could be fatal to his brand. By December 2024, his audience might have moved on. Or died. So, he might decide to get back in the game much sooner and to let Fox off the hook.

Meanwhile, it's clear that even with his lead in the polls, Trump wants the attention that will come from a debate, he just doesn't want to be subject to grilling from a moderator (he is apparently particularly leery of Bret Baier). But if the former president can get a moderator who will handle him with kid gloves, then he might just show up to "debate."

And if we may address a related point, as long as we're at it, Trump has clearly become a much savvier politician since he first entered the biz 8 years ago. Sure, he still makes foolish, unforced errors (see the item above), but he's gotten much better in terms of strategy. Further, he's gotten good at "the little things," like calling Republican officeholders to congratulate them on the birth of a child, or lining up the most useful endorsements (such as most of Florida's House delegation). We doubt that Trump has much to do with keeping track of details like this, but a well-oiled political operation is a well-oiled political operation, regardless of who the brains are.

This stands in clear contrast to Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R-FL) operation, which brings to mind the Keystone Kops (as well another organization, perhaps, where all the words in the name start with 'K'). And we are hardly the only ones to notice this. Politico had a piece this week headlined "'The DeSantis people are rookies': Even Trump critics say he's running circles around DeSantis." It's no secret that the Governor doesn't like retail politics, but that's the game you gotta play if you want to be president. And it's political malpractice if you can't bring yourself to make a few gestures to the movers and shakers of your party, like calling them once in a while to make sure they know they're important to you.

Thus far, DeSantis has been a one-trick pony (lean into the "culture wars") and the trick isn't working so well. Trump is right on the cusp of opening a staggering 30-point lead in FiveThirtyEight's polling average (it's currently Trump 52.0% and DeSantis 22.9%). The former president also got a few polls in the last couple of weeks where he's up by more than 40, and one where his lead is just a couple of points short of 50. A candidate does not often come back from a deficit like that, particularly if their political operation isn't ready for the Major Leagues. (Z)

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