Forget the shopworn Yeats’s lament about how the center cannot hold; in the current GOP internecine cage match, even the fringe is starting to come apart.
On Monday, conservative provocateur Ann Coulter visited Sean Hannity for a plug-her-latest-book sitdown, during which her host tossed out what he no doubt assumed would a typical conservative-colleagues-in-arms softball: “Establishment Republicans are at war with the Tea Party base, and I’m angry about it!” But Coulter slammed it, so to speak, to the opposite field, going on a tear against Newt Gingrich, Todd Akin, Mark Sanford, and Liz Cheney, whom she declared to be “hucksters, shysters, and people ripping off the Republican Party for their own self-aggrandizement, for their own egos, to make money.”
First, let us give the requisite nod to the rich irony of one of the GOP’s most cynical button-pushers professing outrage over ambitious conservatives’ desire to profit personally at the expense of the party’s greater good. This is, after all, a woman who has grown rich and famous fueling Republicans’ image as a pack of extremist nutjobs with made-to-inflame statements such as: “Our blacks are so much better than their blacks”; “We just want Jews to be perfected, as they say”; “I have never seen people”—meaning the 9/11 widows—“enjoying their husbands’ death so much”; “I don’t really like to think of it as murder. It was terminating [abortion provider George] Tiller in the 203rd trimester”; “I think the government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East, and sending liberals to Guantanamo”; and “If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about another Democrat president.”
Now that that’s out of the way, back to Coulter’s tête-à-tête with Hannity. Part of what made her rant so interesting was that it clearly caught her host off guard. When Hannity expressed dissatisfaction with the current intramural GOP warfare, he was inviting Coulter to tear into the soft underbelly of people like Sen. John McCain, Rep. Peter King, and other assorted RINO squishes who don’t believe that crashing the global economy is the best way to run a nation. Instead, Coulter gouged a string of fellow conservatives, leaving Hannity struggling to get a word in edgewise. Coulter heaped special scorn on Dick Cheney’s elder daughter. “Why should we be having—and I love Liz Cheney—but why should we be having a rancorous primary against a good Republican senator other than for Liz Cheney’s ego?” she demanded. This put poor Hannity, a loud-and-proud Liz fan, in an awkward position. But when he gently protested that, far from being an egomaniacal climber Liz Cheney is genuinely “more conservative” than her opponent Mike Enzi, Coulter slapped him down: “No, she isn’t.” Hannity was left to whine meekly, “She’s not a shyster, so let’s be clear.”
So much for a united conservative front.
Of particular note was the composition of Coulter’s chosen enemies list, a list she said represents the Republican Party’s failure to “concentrate on winning.” Todd Akin—sure, everybody agrees he turned out to be a bad bet. But Mark Sanford? Last time I checked, he won his race. And, yes, Newt being Newt, there’s every reason to assume that his 2012 long-shot run was primarily about scoring himself fatter book contracts, increased speaking fees, and a shiny new TV show. But Liz Cheney? That gal radiates a desire to win so raw it chills the blood. (If I’m Mike Enzi, I’m sleeping with one eye open and a loaded pistol by my bed.) Sure, all of these folks share healthy egos and a scorching ambition, but come on, we are talking about American politics here.
That said, Coulter’s scatter-shot attack was telling, as was Hannity’s half-hearted pushback. A master of exploiting the political zeitgeist, Coulter understands that smacking fellow Republicans is the hot trend, and she is too savvy a (cough) huckster to miss such an opportunity. But, as the chaos spirals, Republicans seem to be having an ever-harder time figuring out where it is they want to point fingers or lob bombs. Everyone in the party is fed up with everyone else, and no one seems to have any idea how to stop the madness. Even folks like Coulter and Hannity, who have done so much to create the contemporary climate of over-the-top GOP crazy, can’t agree on how to deal with what they have created. How do you get Frankenstein’s monster back under control when no one can even agree on who the monster is?
That said, you have to give Coulter props for knowing how to hawk a book.