Tucker Carlson poses for a photo with former Bryant Pond resident Nathan Clukey in the basement of the Whitman Memorial Library a few years ago, where Carlson had a makeshift broadcast studio set up. Submitted photo

BRYANT POND — There is growing speculation that Bryant Pond denizen Tucker Carlson, whose prime time show on Fox News is among the most popular on cable television, might wind up as the Republican Party’s nominee for president in 2024.

In recent days, publications ranging from The New York Post to The Sun, a London tabloid, have listed the 51-year-old Carlson among the most likely contenders for GOP backing.

“It makes sense to me. Absolutely,” said Nate Clukey, a childhood friend of the entire Carlson family. “I’ll vote for him.”

The notion of Carlson as a contender for the Oval Office caught fire when one of the founders of The Lincoln Project, a group of Republicans who backed Democrat Joe Biden’s successful bid to unseat President Donald Trump, cited Carlson as a candidate to worry about in four years.

On MSNBC’s Deadline: White House, former GOP political strategist Steve Schmidt called Carlson “the front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2024.”

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, vice chairman of the state Republican Party, said Tuesday that he hasn’t “heard anything that would indicate” Carlson is seeking the nomination, but if he does “he would get it.”

“More than any voice on the right, Tucker understands the need to break through the tried and failed policies that both parties have put forward that have placed global and domestic elites before American families and set our country into a state of decline,” Isgro said.

“The future of the Republican Party is America First and Tucker certainly encapsulates that,” Isgro said.

Schmidt, who quit the Republican Party in 2018 in disgust over Trump, sees Carlson’s appeal, but doesn’t like it.

“Look, we have almost 48% of this country that’s voted for a statist, authoritarian movement with fascistic markers that’s hostile to American democracy, to the rule of law — that venerates an individual, that’s a cult of personality,” Schmidt told MSNBC.

Carlson is a Florida resident, but spends months every year in a lakeside home in Bryant Pond. He has a television studio next to the Woodstock town library which he occasionally uses to broadcast “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” which bills itself as “the sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, smugness and group think.”

Carlson has several times dismissed the notion that he would jump into a presidential election.

Tucker Carlson, host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News, is renovating the former Woodstock town garage for use as a broadcast studio and storage space. The building is behind the former Franklin Grange Hall and beside the Whitman Memorial Library, both on Route 26 in Bryant Pond village. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

He insisted during a Fox News podcast that he was “not running for anything” and that he “never wanted to be involved” in a presidential campaign. He insisted he’s not even partisan.

“At a gut level, I’m just not that way,” Carlson said. “I’m completely committed to saying what is true and politics is a hard place to do that.”

“Imagine a country where I’m considered a serious candidate for something, it’s just hard to imagine anything like that,” he told the podcast The Interview in August.

But the old standards of who can run, and potentially win, were upended in 2016 when Trump, a real estate maven and reality television star, shocked the political establishment around the world with his upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Reality, in short, isn’t what it used to be.

It’s hard to say what Carlson’s chances are.

London bookies who have already started taking bets on the 2024 race don’t include him among the choices. They have Vice President Mike Pence and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley as the two most likely nominees, though familiar names such as ex-Ohio Gov. John Kasich, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Trump himself are not far behind.

Politico had a long story in July focused on Carlson’s prospects for the presidency.

“Tucker Carlson’s audience is booming — and so is chatter that the popular Fox News host will parlay his TV perch into a run for president in 2024,” the story said.

“Republican strategists, conservative commentators, and former Trump campaign and administration officials are buzzing about Carlson as the next-generation leader of Donald Trump’s movement — with many believing he would be an immediate front-runner in a Republican primary,” the story said.

The editor of the National Review, Rich Lowry, told Politico that if Carlson has political ambitions then “he has an opening. He has a following and a taste for controversy. He’s smart, quick on his feet and personable.”

Novelist Don Winslow, an ardent Democrat, said on Twitter Monday that Carlson “checks the boxes the Republicans will be looking for” when they try “to clone Trump” for the next presidential race.

Carlson, he said, has “high TV awareness,” a built-in audience from a hit show on Fox, strong GOP and evangelical support and decades of on-camera skill.

Plus, Winslow added, Carlson’s a manipulator who “can look at you and lie.”

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, a Republican from Illinois, said on Twitter that Carlson “is a great voice for this ugly, stupid populism. He’s the 2024 GOP nominee if he wants it.”

For Mainers, a Carlson bid would be something different than a native son or daughter eyeing the White House.

But Carlson is nonetheless a summertime fixture in western Maine, more akin to George H.W. Bush, the successful GOP contender with a home in Kennebunkport, than to Mainer James G. Blaine, the Republican Party’s unsuccessful 1884 candidate.

Growing up in Bryant Pond, Clukey, a ski instructor in California who helped design the Bethel skatepark, said he often hung out with Carlson and his brother.

Even though they lived in California during the winter, the family was in Maine so often that the Carlsons became part of the community, he said.

“They were one of us,” Clukey said. “They were cool.”

He said he didn’t vote for Trump or Democrat Joe Biden last week, preferring the Green Party instead.

But if his old friend was on the ballot, would he back him?

“I don’t see why not,” said Clukey, who last saw Carlson in a makeshift studio in the library’s basement a couple of years ago.

Whether Carlson picks up Trump’s mantle or not, Isgro said someone will.

“The movement that started with President Donald Trump is only the beginning of something that will live long past his presidency,” he said.

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