It also offered runner-up Ron DeSantis and lower-ranking candidates like Sen. Tim ScottNikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy an opening to make further forays into Iowa.
Carloson, who now hosts his own show on Twitter, allowed candidates time to talk about abortion, one of the most pervasive issues for The Family Leader. But he mostly used his perch to lobby candidates on issues important to him: namely, the US role in the ongoing war in Ukraine.
And he saved most of his animus for former Vice President Mike Pence.
In the most controversial interview of the day, Carlson clashed with the losing candidate over his stance on the war and his actions on Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol and demanded the hanging of Pence to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Carlson, a fierce defender of Trump who he later soured on the former president – challenged, interrupted and contradicted the soft-spoken Pence at almost every turn. As a result, the devout Christian candidate has faced hostility and ridicule at a summit that once would have provided him with a friendly audience.
« I’ve never used the word insurrection, Tucker, » Pence said when asked if he agreed with that term. He called January 6 « a tragic day » and « a riot that took place at the Capitol » and tried to find a middle ground by admonishing the violence of the protesters and the fatal shooting of Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt by a police officer.
« I will always believe that, by the grace of God, I did my duty that day under the Constitution of the United States of America, and our institutions fulfilled it, » Pence said to warm applause, later saying he was « enraged » for how the Capitol building and law enforcement officers were cared for.
Pence tried to criticize the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, but Carlson criticized him even more about Ukraine. He insisted that Pence does not take Carlson’s claim seriously enough that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy « has raided convents, arrested priests, effectively banned the Christian denomination of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, persecuted Christians « .
Pence said he raised these issues with a religious leader during a recent visit to Kiev and was « assured » that the Ukrainian government « respected religious freedom ».
Carlson was impassive. “I sincerely wonder how a Christian leader can advocate arresting Christians for having different views,” she said.
The heated exchange continued throughout the 25-minute interview, with Pence later tweeted that his remarks have been taken out of context. A spokesman for Pence declined to comment further on the exchange.
The tense back-and-forth underlined both Pence’s difficulty in the race and the change underway in the Republican Party, whose traditionalists believe the United States should stand up for Ukraine and move away from Trump’s influence.
But it is clear that the flu is here to stay.
“Tucker Carlson is good at what he does. I think some of Pence’s answers — for a vice president to get boos, audible boos, from the audience? This is a big deal,” Mike Demastus, pastor of the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ, said after the event. « I even heard a pastor friend of mine say, ‘His campaign is over.' »
While several audience members applauded Carlson’s style and focused on the war, establishment Republicans expressed dismay.
“Republicans will live to regret treating Tucker Carlson like a GOP standard-bearer. On nearly every major issue he is so profoundly outside the mainstream: from whitewashing 1/6, to espousing pro-Kremlin disinformation, he is absolutely wrong and will cost us in the polls.” tweeted former Trump staffer and ‘The View’ co-host Alyssa Farah Griffin.
Meanwhile, several candidates remained on Carlson’s wavelength and enjoyed much friendlier interviews.
DeSantis and Ramaswamy — who blamed January 6 for the anger people felt at what he described as “pervasive censorship in this country” — seemed to appease Carlson by generally agreeing with his stance on the Ukraine war.
Some in the audience thought the setup was particularly tough on some candidates, such as Pence and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.
« I imagine Vice President Pence would have liked to talk more about his record in advocating for unborn life, » said Chris Hagenow, president of Iowans for Tax Relief and a former state legislator. « There were certainly a number of questions that he spent the most time on that he probably would have liked to drop more quickly. »