Ann Coulter (AP/Peter Kramer)

How Ann Coulter became the harbinger of the GOP's extremist apocalypse

Coulter has long been a Republican trailblazer, predicting the party's turn toward an increasingly overt racism


Heather Digby Parton
September 24, 2015 7:22PM (UTC)

It's so hard to be a paid right-wing provocateur these days, what with presidential frontrunners like Donald Trump out there calling Mexicans rapists and criminals and Ben Carson declaring that Muslims should be banned from the presidency. When the mainstream Republicans are talking like Ann Coulter, where can Ann Coulter go to get a rise out of people?

There was a time when saying something like "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity" was a shocking sentiment fit only for the farthest right fringe. Her mind-boggling pronouncement that “Congress could pass a law tomorrow requiring that all aliens from Arabic countries leave" and suggesting that authorities detain any "swarthy looking males" were greeted with gasps a decade ago. Today, it doesn't sound far out at all. Listen today to Lindsey Graham's shrieking about the need to invade half the Middle East because "they're coming here" if we don't, or Ben Carson going on about forcing Muslims to renounce their faith, and it's clear that these ideas have certainly gained some mainstream conservative currency over the years.

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Coulter, a 'yuuuuuge Donald Trump supporter, has basically written his campaign agenda with her book "Adios America." Saying that "Americans should fear Mexicans more than ISIS" is one of the less controversial comments in it. (The "rapists" charge is lifted directly from her screed.) I wrote about her fall from grace a few months back and called her "political white noise," suggesting that her act is no longer salient after all these years because nobody finds it shocking anymore. But that doesn't mean she won't try. After all, her paycheck depends upon it. And to be fair, I have never thought Coulter was the cynical phony so may beltway wags thought she was. Sure, she's theatrical but there is no reason to doubt her authenticity. She should be accorded the respect of taking her at her word that the malevolent worldview she espouses is sincerely held.

And let's be serious: Coulter was way ahead of her time with the immigrant and Muslim bashing and took the heat for it.  Now even establishment favorites like Jeb Bush, the man whose own children are the product of a multicultural upbringing, is decrying multiculturalism in a vain attempt to attract the xenophobes who loathe the fact that he's married to a Mexican-American woman. And Marco Rubio this week ruled out a path to citizenship for undocumented workers forever. Her influence is profound.

So it's a good idea to check in with what's she's saying today so that we might have an idea where the GOP will be going tomorrow. Lo and behold, she is once again pushing the boundaries in ways that seem so shocking and un-American that you can hardly believe anyone who is accepted into polite company would go there in 2015.

It all started at the last Republican debate when Coulter tweeted, “How many f---ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?” It was jarring even for her -- if there is a GOP sacred cow these days, it is Israel, and Coulter started hacking away at it in public with a metaphorical machete. (It's not that there is no precedent for Republican hostility toward Jewish people, but we haven't seen it in a long time.)

By way of explanation, Coulter told The Daily Beast:

“I’m accusing Republicans of thinking the Jews have so much power. They’re the ones who are comedically acting out this play where Jews control everything,” ...

“My point was this whole culture of virtue-signaling where debates are about nothing. Look, Republicans all agree 100 percent that we are pro-Israel, pro-Life, pro-gun. So why do we spend so much time on these issues? It’s just pandering, so who are they pandering to?”

In a follow up tweet to her comment about the "f---ing Jews," she pondered whether the GOP's focus on Israel was really a ploy to kiss up to evangelicals, thus proving that she has finally caught up with the conventional wisdom every pundit this side of Honolulu has known for decades. She later told the Daily Beast, “I don’t think the Republicans understand evangelicals. We don’t need to be coddled to constantly—we’re not Democrats. There is no doubt that the Republican Party is the party of Israel and of Life. So why keep sucking up on Israel?”

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It's still unclear why she cares so much about this, other than that perhaps she doesn't like Jewish people any better than she likes Asians, Latinos, or any other group outside her own racial, ethnic and religious identity. Just yesterday she went on a twitter tirade rattling off numbers of immigrants who come to the U.S. from from countries like Mexico, China, Vietnam etc., than come from England. There is no explanation offered for why she felt this was important to share with her followers, but it doesn't take a mind reader to figure it out. (No word on why more Brits aren't trying to emigrate here, but it might be because they don't want to live in a country that turns bigots like Coulter into highly paid celebrities.)

But Coulter wasn't content to slam the Republicans for pandering to the "f---ing Jews." With the Pope's visit this week, she has gone on a tear against Catholics too. Not that she is the only right winger criticizing Francis. They are nearly apoplectic about his preaching on behalf of the poor and climate change. In fact,  they have taken it upon themselves to dictate what issues the Pope is entitled to address and it appears that in their view his role is solely that of vagina policeman. (The papacy has certainly diminished since the days it rules over all Christendom.) Conservative commentator David Limbaugh -- admittedly not even a Catholic, which means his knowledge of Catholic theology is likely confined to binge watching re-runs of "The Flying Nun" on Netflix -- put it this way in a tweet yesterday:

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Case closed.  Coulter piled on:

Oddly, "American Catholics" have not yet been informed of their official separation with the Roman Catholic church. You'd think this would be bigger news. And it's going to be a heck of a surprise to the citizens of Maryland to learn that the Catholic founders of their state weren't allowed to be American citizens.

But the bigger picture here is that while we all know it's a right wing prerogative to attack Islam, Coulter has also attacked Jews and Catholics in the space of a week. And attacking any of the Judeo-Christian religious traditions had been off limits at least since Nixon was insulting every religion known to man. Surely she knows that the religious right is one of the GOP's most valuable constituencies, and that most certainly includes conservative Jews and Catholics. It's causing some of her fellow Republicans to recoil.

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But maybe that's the point. Trump is as disdainful of Republican leadership as he is of the Democrats. Carson and Fiorina are total outsiders who have never held office before. Ted Cruz is accusing the GOP of "surrender politics." And a large number of Republican voters loathe and despise their own leaders. Perhaps Coulter, as is often the case, is simply out front in the next phase of the Republican party crack-up: She's signaling an impulse to discipline religious factions in the Party which may deviate from or otherwise compromise the central mission of the conservative movement -- to preserve the (white) American way of life. It's obvious that she believes the party's extreme fealty to Israel and it's vulnerability to the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church are threats to that project.

There used to be many people like Coulter who wanted to make America "pure" and believed that Mexicans and Asians and Jews and Catholics were cultural pollutants. But they mostly died out in the last century after the world fought a couple of history's bloodiest wars. Her comments are anachronistic and strange to a modern person's ears, even many modern conservatives. But then so are Donald Trump's. They are both arousing a subterranean strain of American political culture that's been quiescent for a while.

Perhaps Ann Coulter's influence on the conservative movement is more powerful than I gave her credit for. If she is, in fact, a vanguard figure who is clearing the path for conservatism's next step, then fasten your sea belts. A religious war within the conservative movement is bound to be epic.

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And no matter what happens, you can be sure that Ann Coulter will be making a profit at it.


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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