Gillian Laub for TIME

Love him or hate him, Tucker Carlson may be the most powerful conservative in America. With roughly 3 million viewers every night, Tucker Carlson Tonight is the top-rated show in cable-news history. As Republicans have lost nearly all their political power on the federal level, Carlson has emerged as the de facto cultural leader of the right. His diatribes against “the elites,” the federal government and the scientific consensus shape the belief system of millions. If it seems like Americans can’t agree on anything—including whether COVID-19 vaccines work and whether Joe Biden won the presidential election—that’s partly the evidence of Tucker Carlson’s influence.

Alter is a TIME senior correspondent

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