It is a question that has been asked at least a million times over the past two decades — sometimes by her right-wing friends in admiration and amusement, more often by her left-wing enemies in desperation or damnation — and finally we have the answer from her own, proudly venomous, lips: What would make Ann Coulter, the queen mother of American political invective, shut up?
“You want to know what would shut Ann Coulter right up?” she asks. “Defeat Trump. Unless we elect Trump and do something about immigration, America will disappear. And I’ll disappear with it....
“I should be working on another book now, but I can’t, I’m too wrapped up in the election. I’ll have to skip a year on books. And if Trump loses, my next book will probably be a cookbook. I’ll be done with politics, except for a nasty tweet or two about the end of America. Maybe I’ll organize Facebook groups to help me desecrate Teddy Kennedy’s grave.”
This is what passes for a reflective and even morose moment in the all-guns-blazing-all-the-time world of Coulter, and a startling one, too. Could it really be true?
After 11 New York Times bestsellers, something approaching 2 million book sales, a thousand newspaper columns and a seeming 10 million bombastic TV interviews in which anybody to the left of Joe McCarthy is excoriated and eviscerated, could Coulter really be on the verge of abandoning her self-appointed mission to obliterate even the faintest trace of liberalism from every nook and cranny of the United States?
Nah. A couple of days after her lunchtime winter of discontent, Coulter calls back from the South Florida hideout she calls home (location secret; she’s had stalker problems galore) when not in New York. A new book deal after all! “It’s going to be a blockbuster!!!!!” she proclaims in an email. (When the world’s supply of exclamation marks is finally exhausted, Coulter will quickly be identified as the culprit.) “It’s about how one man can change human history!” She won’t identify him, but it’s a safe bet that his hair is a lot oranger than, say, Barack Obama’s.
Coulter, whose previous mortal passions have run from the lurid (impeaching Bill Clinton for sexual pecadilloes) to the quixotic (rehabilitating red-hunting Senator Joe McCarthy) to the startling (defeating Republican presidential candidate John McCain), has latched on to her boldest yet: the presidential hopes of Donald Trump.
And she, as much as anybody, may be the one to credit — or, if you prefer, blame — for elevating Trump from a blustering never-been-elected-anything longshot to a perhaps-inevitable Republican nominee. Her brutally anti-immigration book Adios, America: The Left’s Plan To Turn Our Country Into A Third World Hellhole, provided the intellectual underpinnings of what has become Trump’s most popular campaign riff: walling off Mexico to keep out drug dealers and rapists.
Before June 2015, Trump’s musings about immigration were rare and contradictory: He sneered about the “self-deportation” plan that Mitt Romney proposed during his 2012 presidential campaign, but also sent out a few tweets in 2013 criticizing a Senate bill that would have offered clemency to illegal immigrants. In early 2015, as Trump began hinting he might run for president, his main issue was foreign trade, not immigration.
Coulter, meanwhile, was preparing a national promotional tour for Adios, America, which argues that the United States should stop all immigration, before Third World cultures dissolve it into a squalid moonscape of dope-fueled murder and child molestation. The book’s official release was set for June 1, but on May 26, Coulter did a combative interview in Miami with the bilingual Fusion TV network’s host Jorge Ramos, who had obtained an advance copy.
The show was pure mayhem. Ramos: “You’ve said that Americans should fear immigrants more than ISIS.” Coulter: “Yes.... If you don’t want to be killed by ISIS, don’t go to Syria. If you don’t want to be killed by a Mexican, there’s nothing I can tell you.” The cage-match interview immediately went viral on the Internet.
“I was on my way back to the airport to fly to New York City when I got an email from Trump’s office requesting that a copy of the book be overnighted to him,” recalls Coulter. Two weeks later, Trump delivered his famous — or infamous — speech about Mexico dumping “criminals, drug dealers, rapists, et ceterera” into the United States and was on his way to knocking 14 of the other 16 Republican candidates out of the race.
“He’s the only person I ever needed to read it,” says Coulter happily. “Now my work is done.” (Though she graciously gives the Mexican-born Ramos some probably unwanted credit: “Yay, Jorge! He can stay.”)
The Trump campaign is officially noncommittal about her role; a spokeswoman would say only that “We are grateful to Ann for voicing her enthusiasm for Mr. Trump and his candidacy.” But political consultant Roger Stone, who was with the organization last May before leaving to become a freelance Trump advocate, confirms that Coulter was a familiar figure around the campaign.
“She’s clearly been an influence,” he said. “Trump likes her and thinks very highly of her. I know he’s read her book, and I know he liked it.”
Being embraced by presidential candidates is a new experience for Coulter, whose scandalous and sometimes scabrous commentary has made her one of the most prolific political flak-magnets in modern American history. She’s warred on everybody from 9/11 widows to Republican supporters of Israel.
Coulter on theology and environmentalism: “God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.’” Coulter on political strategy in a gubernatorial race in which the Libertarian Party candidate was siphoning off support from the Republican: “We need some strategic hunting accidents, airplane crashes. We need Luca Brasi in our party.” (Brasi was the ax-wielding Mob enforcer in The Godfather.) Coulter to an Islamic woman protesting her suggestion that Muslims be required to travel on flying carpets rather than airplanes: “Take a camel.” Coulter on Herman Cain, the only African-American candidate in the 2012 Republican primaries: “Our blacks are so much better than their blacks.”
Adios, America may be her most disputatious work yet. Even if it were stated in less pugnacious terms (sample chapter subhead: PENIS-CHOPPING IMMIGRANTS), her argument that America is importing Third World cultures that are violent, corrupt and fundamentally antithetic to Western liberalism is the stuff of intellectual bar brawls.
Or would be, if she could get a hearing; the chattering classes have largely clamped a lid on the book, though it spent 11 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. Adios, America was hardly reviewed at all and the cable-news channels studiously ignored it. “I’ve been banned from just about everything,” Coulter says, laughing merrily.
The blackout seems unlikely to hold; whether you call it renown or notoriety, Coulter has too much of it be ignored for long. She made federal appellate judge Richard Posner’s book on the 100 most influential public intellectuals and she made the cover of Time magazine. She’s even got her own toy action figure — which, of course, talks: “'Liberals can't just come out and say they want to take more of our money, kill babies and discriminate on the basis of race.” (Note to Trump: It was made in China. Note to liberals: The box includes a warning that the doll is a “choking hazard.”)
The left’s epic loathing for her fills entire books, three in 2006 alone. (One was called Soulless, another Brainless, and — well, you get the picture.) “I am the gold standard for liberal bile!” she once boasted to Time magazine. But even her conservative allies often jump rather than go down with her ship of gaffes.
Megan McCain, daughter of the 2008 GOP presidential candidate, calls her “offensive, radical, insulting and confusing.” The conservative magazine National Review dropped her as a columnist after she wrote a couple of weeks after 9/11: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” The magazine’s editors, she sniffed in reply, were “girly boys.”
These rebuffs leave her neither chastened, regretful nor even the teensiest bit more inclined to caution.
“There’ve been a few times that my finger hesitated over the send button,” Coulter says. “But then I usually send it anyway. I get a little belligerent when not enough protesters show up at my appearances. ‘Come on, did you not read last week’s column?’”
That, she hastens to add, is a joke; she doesn’t troll for outrage. “I don’t think I do that much shoe-banging on TV,” she insists. “If you look at my interviews, I’m always being nice and everyone is yelling at me. I’m not trying to get a reaction. I’m not even thinking about that, not even the thing about the f---ing Jews.”
The Effing Jews Thing, as we’ll call it, was a tweet Coulter unleashed during a Republican presidential debate in September. After several candidates delivered mini-orations pledging their support for Israel if elected, Coulter blurt-tweeted: “How many f---ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?”
Pandemonium ensued — instantly on the Internet, for days on end on cable news. And it’s about the only thing in her vast portfolio of affronts to — well, political correctness or human decency, take your pick — about which Coulter gets within a light year of repenting. Her explanation: poor modifier placement.
“I could have put effing in six different places in that sentence, and five of them wouldn’t have gotten me in trouble,” she muses. “If I’d just changed the word effing to modify the quantity and not the people — how effing many Jews instead of how many effing Jews — there wouldn’t have been all the fuss.
“I sent the tweet halfway through a debate where there was no discussion of anything but Ronald Reagan, Israel and abortion. Those things are all fine, but there’s no disagreement about them. All Republicans agree — who doesn’t love Reagan and Israel, and who doesn’t hate abortion? So what’s the point in talking about it? They all go on and on about Ronald Reagan. Yes, he’s great, but Ronald Reagan was 35 years ago. Can we move on?”
This sounds almost pensive, but quickly she finds the silver lining: “Once I tweeted, they stopped talking about Israel so much, that night and at the debates that followed. I may lose the battle, but I always win the war. Coulter gets results!!!”
If results equal book sales or Nielsen rating points, that’s been true ever since Coulter abandoned a promising but terminally boring career in corporate law for life as a talking head in the early days of cable-news channel MSNBC. Her indelicately acerbic right-wing commentary got her fired — and rehired — more times than she could count.
“I didn’t even have a TV, didn’t watch TV, didn’t know how you were supposed to act on TV,” remembers Coulter. “I still don’t, I guess, because everybody is always kicking me off their network. But they always have to take me back, because I get boxes and boxes of fan mail.”
Some Coulter critics believe the fan mail is the whole point — that Coulter’s outrageousness is just an act, show-business schtick for the rubes. “One way to break through the clutter on TV is to be as bat-s--- crazy as possible,” says lefty talk-radio veteran Nicole Sandler. “I think she’s very smart. Once you get to that level, where everybody knows your name and you’re putting out a book a year, you just become a caricature of yourself.”
Others, however, say what you see on the air with Coulter is pretty much what you get off-camera, too. “When you go out to dinner with her, she says pretty much the same things she says on Twitter or TV or in her column,” says Tucker Carlson, editor of the conservative website The Daily Caller and a weekend host on Fox News.
Carlson is a longtime friend of Coulter’s, though that hasn’t stopped them from tangling ferociously at times when he’s interviewed her on the air for various cable-news shows over the years. “My estimation, knowing her pretty well, is that she believes a higher proportion of what she says on TV than almost anyone else in the business....
“She probably goes over the top occasionally with her punchlines. She has a sardonic sense of humor and, like a lot of funny people, she can almost never resist a good line. The thing about invading the Middle East and converting everybody to Christianity is a good example. That was obviously not meant to be literal. But I do think that, fundamentally, she would say that very sincere Christians are much less of a violent threat than very sincere Muslims.”
The 51-year-old Coulter (some Internet sources says she’s 54, but she insists “most of those claims online are untrue... I also haven’t dated those boys”) is accustomed to the doubters. Even one of her bosses from her old lawyering days, First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, bumping into her at a party, once asked: “Were you this way when you were with us?''
But, she says, her family and old friends will assure anybody who asks that the Ann Coulter who once called Katie Couric “the affable Eva Braun of morning television” or lost a USA Today column for referring to “no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, fragrant hippie-chick pie wagons they call ‘women’ at the Democratic National Convention” is the same Ann Coulter who was there all along.
“I was always like this,” she says, smiling nostalgically. “One of my friends from summer camp told me she always wants to write in when she sees an article where people say, ‘I don’t believe she really means this.’ She remembers when I was 8 and I climbed White Mountain to tell her the real story on Nixon — ‘Don’t believe what you hear about Watergate.’ ”