Ann Coulter’s ‘Intricately Knit Conspiracy’
Ann Coulter has been Donald Trump’s outspoken champion since he launched his campaign. In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!, her book that came out last summer, was more of a manifesto than anything Trump has written himself (that said, I’m not sure he’s ever written anything himself). ‘The only guy whose personal life sounds fascinating is Trump and he never discusses it,’ she wrote. ‘He was too busy talking about building a wall, renegotiating bad trade deals and ending our insane Muslim immigration policies.’ She said yesterday that the cost of building the wall along the US-Mexican border would be ‘roughly equal to one year’s worth of therapy, hospital costs of little girls raped by illegal immigrants’. She is a monster.
‘What pisses me off is when they don’t get the punch line,’ Coulter has said of her audiences. The reactionary tone of so much American political humour is a strangely neglected subject: it’s become axiomatic that if you want to see your opponent trashed then you set out to see them laughed at, and that if you’re going to be a tribune of the people you’d better have the viciousness of the stand-up comedian. Coulter knows that. ‘Comedy is hard,’ she once said. ‘Any idiot can have an opinion’ – though she has a limitless supply of them, too.
Coulter has a mastery over all media: her books sell millions of copies; she’s on TV; she writes columns, blog posts and tweets; she speaks at colleges, conferences and on the hustings. She aims to shock, tease and bait her readers and audiences, and doesn’t appear to mind being disliked.
One of her heroes is Phyllis Schlafly, the voice of Nixon’s silent majority. ‘Though conservative women in later generations are often compared to Schlafly,’ Coulter wrote when Schlafly died last September, ‘all of us combined could never match the titanic accomplishments of this remarkable woman.’ In A Choice Not An Echo (1964), which sold millions of copies, Schlafly attacked the financial Establishment (always capitalised), political elites, Wall Street, unpatriotic liberals and East Coast Republicans such as Nelson Rockefeller. Abortion, divorce, extramarital sex, homosexuality, feminism – she was against all of them. For her campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment, Betty Friedan said she would have been pleased to see Schlafly burnt at the stake. The ERA never became part of the US Constitution.
Schlafly endorsed Trump’s presidential campaign last March. Six months later he spoke at her funeral in St Louis. ‘Phyllis was a strong, proud, fierce, and tireless warrior, and she was a warrior for the country, which she loved so much,’ he said. ‘Phyllis fought very hard to the very end for a free and prosperous America. She understood that to be truly united as a country, we can’t simply turn to government or to politicians.’
I was for a time Coulter’s editor at George magazine in the late 1990s, although attempts at editing were met with suspicions you were trying to censor her. Somewhere in my files I have a sheet of thumb-nail photos of Coulter posing with a pistol; she’s a second amendment enthusiast. In 1999, I took her to the launch party in New York for Christopher Hitchens’s book about the Clintons, No One Left to Lie To.
There weren’t many people as vehement in their opposition to the Clintons as Hitchens and Coulter, but one of them was Kellyanne Fitzpatrick, as she was known before she married George Conway in 2001. In the 1990s she was an adviser to Newt Gingrich’s staff when he was speaker of the House. His legislative programme, which he called the Contract with America, was also a more barbed contract aimed at Bill Clinton. Conway was Trump’s campaign manager last year and is now counsellor to the president (a job given Cabinet status under Nixon). Last week she came up with the new euphemism for lies, ‘alternative facts’.
Her husband is a Wall Street lawyer, who worked pro bono for Paula Jones’s team in the sexual harassment case she brought against Clinton in 1994. He wrote the Supreme Court brief that persuaded the judges to agree that a sitting president could be taken to court in a civil case. He was also an old friend of Coulter’s (she was a lawyer before she became a journalist). During the Paula Jones case, Coulter referred to herself, Conway, the literary agent Lucianne Goldberg and Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report, as ‘the elves’. She said later that she had been a member of ‘a small, intricately knit right-wing conspiracy’ that existed with the ‘purpose of bringing down the president’. It may sound as if she was joking, but she wasn’t.