Ann Coulter’s eleventh and latest book, In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!, reads more than anything like 200 pages of the author trying to convince herself of something she doesn’t really believe. She appears to have done a good job on herself, despite her recent—but temporary!—panic over the fact Trump appears to be softening on immigration. Whether the reading public will be so easily convinced remains to be seen.
Coulter made her name as a conservative polemicist at the tail end of the Clinton administration. Since that time, she has authored books and columns on a variety of topics, all involving a robust defense of conservatism. In the past few years, however, Coulter has abandoned her once-wide-ranging defense of that philosophy, focusing instead upon a single-issue: immigration from Latin America and the Arab world and the peril she believes it represents to the America.
The Great Orange Hope
In Donald Trump, Coulter has found a political savior. And savior is not too strong a word, as throughout the book she uses Trump’s name in places typically reserved for God. Aside from the title, she refers to the pre-Donald political landscape in the time “B.T.: Before Trump”. It is a surprising turn for someone who once compared leftist political beliefs to a cult (see her 2006 book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism) but intellectual consistency is just the least of the values Coulter jettisoned in her embrace of the new nativism of what is euphemistically called the Alt-Right.
Coulter makes her transition to a single-issue voter explicit early in the book. “There’s nothing Trump can do that won’t be forgiven,” she writes. “Except change his immigration policies.”
While immigration has featured in her writing for some time, it was only three years ago that Coulter wrote in her book, Never Trust a Liberal Over 3—Especially a Republican, “I thought the irreducible requirements of Republicanism were being for life, small government, and a strong national defense….” She wrote that in the context of abandoning her support for the war in Afghanistan. Now, even life, small government, and national defense take a back seat to the Trumpian directive to Build The Wall.
Rather than describing her choice to discard these basic conservative values as pragmatic, Coulter paints it as political jujitsu. Worried about your candidate having a Todd Akin-esque gaffe on abortion? Just ignore the issue entirely and focus instead on extolling “Planned Parenthood’s other works.” Are foreign wars unpopular? Pretend to have been against them from the beginning. Not getting traction with tax cuts and shrinking government? Forget about it, and join the Big Government team. Trump’s moral flexibility on these and other issues, in Coulter’s view, is a masterstroke, wrong-footing the press and Democrats, paving the way to a content-free victory.
The Narrative Of Losing
Why is all this necessary? Because Coulter believes the Republican Party to be so deeply unpopular that only by completely changing its views on everything besides the Great Wall of Mexico can it hope to survive. The GOP is, in her telling, locked in a downward spiral, unfairly maligned by a leftist press, its voter rolls decimated by a tide of foreigners who will only ever vote Democrat.
It’s a frightening tale, but it fails to match up with the facts. Until this year, Republicans were making epic gains at every level of government. Unexpectedly large gains in the Senate in 2014. The biggest GOP House majority since 1929. The most state legislators since 1928. A deep, well-qualified field of presidential contenders for 2016. This was hardly the look of a dying party.
To Coulter, though, and to Trump, it was not enough. Because neither party looked to shut off all immigration, Coulter sees not Republican victories but a bipartisan conspiracy to “destroy America.” That sounds like a single line of hyperbole, but it is not isolated. Coulter describes all immigration not from Western Europe, whether legal or illegal, in the most derisive terms. To read sentences like “almost any immigrant to America makes it less honest. It’s a cultural thing” in an Internet comments section is one thing. To read them in a book written by an educated professional, someone who was once capable of nuance and judgment, is quite another.
Having dropped so many supposedly unpopular conservative views, with what does Coulter propose the Republican Party replace them? With Trump! And what program of ideas should we now espouse? Build the Wall! But what of other problems, those not related to illegal immigration? He’ll fix them, too, somehow! And what does Coulter say of Trump’s governing philosophy, or lack thereof? “He doesn’t need think tanks,” she explains, “He just needs a bunch of guys in construction.”
That is a breathtaking statement for someone who has built a career talking about ideas. Coulter points out, correctly, that many of the Republican primary debates turned into contests over which candidate could mention Ronald Reagan the most times. What made Reagan stand out, she notes, was his bold ideas about the path this country should take. Merely asking “what would Reagan do?” is not a platform, especially when the man last held office nearly three decades ago. But her solution—replacing one hero with another—makes even less sense. The Great Communicator had ideas, theories, and solutions; the Great Prevaricator has nothing but his hero project on the Rio Grande.
Ann Coulter Knows Better
One cause of the fury against Coulter on the Right is the disappointment of finding someone we once defended cross over into the indefensible. In 2003, she wrote Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, which included a revisionist history of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his investigations into communist spies in the United States government. Drawing on new research published about Soviet archives, she presented a compelling, if inflammatory, case for McCarthy’s rehabilitation. Her style was bombastic and her narrative questionable, but it was at least backed up with forty pages of citations.
Now, with In Trump We Trust, the reader is presented with lines such as “I’m too busy too footnote.” The decline in Coulter’s writing is not limited to research methods. The whole book has the feeling of something dashed off quickly, a stream-of-consciousness rant from someone determined to cash in on the Trump phenomenon before it crashes and burns in November.
There are flashes of the old brilliance. Take the charge that Trump publicly mocked the physical disability of a New York Times reporter, for example. Coulter builds a convincing case that Trump is unjustly accused. She explains that the reporter in question, Serge F. Kovaleski, wrote a story in 2001 including the detail that some New Jersey Muslims had celebrated the September 11 attacks. When Trump adopted and amplified that claim earlier this year, Kovaleski disavowed the story. Trump then mocked him for his pusillanimity, not his disability. In Coulter’s telling, Trump was not mimicking any of Kovaleski’s physical traits but, as she crudely puts it, “doing a standard retard, waving his arms and sounding stupid.”
Whether you find that explanation convincing or not—and I have mixed feelings, as it’s best you never go full “standard retard”—it at least shows the kind of work of which Coulter is capable, and which she once produced on a regular basis. Explaining the background of an event, providing citations, presenting a convincing alternate argument, and all while being entertaining and bombastic: This was the sort of writing that made Coulter famous, but it is in too short supply here.
Instead, we are left with all of the bombast and few of the facts. In Trump We Trust is an almost cartoonish paean of praise to the Republican nominee. Some passages are nearly indistinguishable from parody, and one imagines the author smirking as she wonders if she’s laying it on just a little too thick. At times, the mask slips. In describing Trump’s virtues and flaws, Coulter writes “Luckily, voting machines register only ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ not ‘yes, but I hate myself.’” It sounds almost like a confession.