Donald Trump skipped the first GOP debate to chat with his courtier Tucker Carlson. Their conversation revealed the utter insincerity of their branding as opponents of the elite and the military-industrial complex.

by Ben Burgis, Jacobin

On Wednesday, Tucker Carlson asked Donald Trump if Jeffrey Epstein killed himself. It was a potentially explosive moment. Before being reduced to hosting streams on Twitter — sorry, “X” — Carlson was the biggest personality on Fox News. And he was asking a former president of the United States to weigh in on whether a wealthy sex trafficker, notoriously connected to a long string of famous names, including Trump himself, may have been murdered to stop him from spilling powerful people’s secrets. How would Trump react?

Carlson: Do you think Epstein killed himself — sincerely?

Trump: I don’t know. I will say he was a fixture in Palm Beach. . .

Trump went on to say that Epstein probably did kill himself, before pivoting to his favorite subject: his claim to have won the 2020 election. Both men politely pretended not to know that Carlson had derided that narrative in text messages that have long since become public.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, Tucker Carlson,Mr.Trump,Donald Trump Jr, and Eric Trump at the LIV golf Tournament held at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster,NJ.

“I will say he was a fixture in Palm Beach” was one of many bizarre moments in the forty-six-minute interview Trump gave as an alternative to attending the first GOP debate. Mostly, Trump rambled and Carlson let him. Occasionally, Carlson tried to inject a moment of drama — by asking about Epstein, or by pushing Trump to take seriously the idea that “the Left” was going to assassinate him or start a civil war. But Trump never quite took the bait.

Both men’s friends and supporters have spent the last several years portraying them as edgy populists, enemies of the ruling class and the military-industrial complex. In the conversation on Wednesday, though, neither of them pretended to be much of anything but what they are: the former CEO of a world-spanning empire trying to get his job back, and a media clown whose two goals were to create viral moments and flatter Trump.

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