For many young female conservatives, Ann Coulter was our Conservative Supergirl. With a wit that seemed faster than a speeding bullet, her clever chatter buzzed as if she were an Aaron Sorkin character brought to life. Seeing the utterly fearless way she eviscerated the hypocrisy of the left was a thing of joy.
Better yet, she was cool. Not some stodgy, frumpy “church lady” like from Dana Carvey’s SNL skits, but stylish and sleek with her long blond hair and penchant for black leather skirts and sky-high heels. She was snarky and hysterical and fun, our Republican Barbie Warrior Princess, and I adored her.
And then she broke my heart.
First, some backstory. I registered as a Republican at age 18, but my own conservative beliefs did not fully develop until several years later. The experiences I had in college and law school, both at the University of Florida, challenged me—as college ideally should—to truly think about not just what I believed, but why. The College Republicans and Federalist Society introduced me to other students who had their own interpretations of conservatism, and provided my first significant exposure to libertarianism.
Far more important than meeting fellow conservatives, however, were the interactions I had with those on the other side of the ideological divide. It is no secret that most college campuses tend to be far more encouraging of ideas from the left than the right, and openly identifying yourself as a conservative in college meant setting yourself apart.
Being Christian and pro-life means you will never fully feel comfortable in the alcohol-fueled bacchanalia that infuses most college campuses, and the cultural view of liberalism as “tolerant” and “open-minded” creates a real pressure. When a friend on your dorm hall asks you why Republicans “don’t support women’s rights,” you can either give up being a Republican (at least openly) or figure out how to quickly articulate why you believe conservative policies actually provide more freedom and happiness for more women.
Classes were ideological obstacle courses. Many of my political science professors made little secret that they leaned left, and there was even one tenured professor with a giant poster of Lenin in his office behind his desk, glaring down at any student who came in for office hours. It is impossible to survive the modern college environment as a conservative without having your beliefs tested, constantly and vigorously. Graduating with your conservatism intact means you have had your beliefs forged by fire into steel.
This is where Ann Coulter comes in.
For me and many other young conservatives, Coulter’s books were a revelation. Backed up by painstakingly detailed research and what seemed like millions of footnotes, she took liberal tropes that had been presented in the mainstream media and my history books as facts, and completely shredded them, interweaving some vicious sarcasm along the way.
Reading Coulter was like studying a form of mental martial arts. Here were the specific reasons why the liberals were wrong, and better yet, a strategy for how to make the arguments. I devoured her writings, along with those by other conservative thought leaders like Andrew Breitbart, Friedrich Hayek, and Jonah Goldberg, in an effort to build my own intellectual arsenal.
Coulter was a smart, educated role model for those of us who felt lost in the wider culture. When we were being told we were wrong by the media, professors, friends, celebrities, and politicians (even Republicans), Coulter was one of the guideposts that we could follow, a steady and unblinking North Star who was a light unto our path.
Sadly, that guidepost seems to have lost her own way. Her raison d’être is no longer the bold articulation of conservative principles but rather an ugly and small-minded vision for America.
Coulter’s latest book, íAdios America! The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country Into a Third World Hellhole, drew criticism even from conservatives for the way her opposition to illegal immigration was so often expressed as opposition to the “browning of America.”
Then, when some pro-immigration protesters crashed one of her book events, she told reporters, “You have to understand, screaming and defacing things is how Latin Americans express disagreement. At least as long as they were destroying books and screaming in a book store, they weren’t molesting any 4-year-olds.”
íAdios America! served as a prequel to the Donald Trump campaign, and his very similar accusations about Mexicans being criminals. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” said Trump in his announcement speech back in June. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
Not unexpectedly, Coulter has been one of Trump’s most vocal supporters on the right, adding her own inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric. A July column denounced Trump’s opponents as being apologists for child rape, adding that this was part of the “Mexican peasant culture” and “Latino rape culture.”
She followed that up in August with a column, titled “Donald Trump: Still Right About Mexican Rapists,” in which she wrote that there was a “cultural acceptance of child rape in Latino culture that doesn't exist in even the most dysfunctional American ghettoes.”
And then there’s the cherry on top of Coulter’s hateful little sundae. When the Republican debate wrapped up Wednesday evening, Coulter tweeted “arguably the most offensive and divisive tweet of her life,” asking “How many f---ing Jews do these people think are in the United States?” She complained that Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz, and former Gov. Mike Huckabee had all mentioned Israel in their answer about how they envisioned the future of America, plus other accusations of pandering.
“The whole argument echoes a historic libel against Jews that they hold secret influence,” wrote The Daily Beast’s Tom Sykes, and Coulter’s tweets were met with an immediate roar of approval from anti-Semites on Twitter, who began posting under the hashtag #IStandWithAnn, which became a trending topic.
Coulter posted a furious string of backpedaling tweets, claiming that she was not anti-Semitic but was simply annoyed the candidates were spouting platitudes on issues where Republicans already agreed: support for Israel, opposition to abortion, adoration for Ronald Reagan. “It’s not about Jewish people; it’s about Republican panderers,” she tweeted.
In an interview with The Daily Beast posted Thursday, Coulter told Jay Michaelson it was all a “misunderstanding.”
“I’m accusing Republicans of thinking the Jews have so much power,” said Coulter. “They’re the ones who are comedically acting out this play where the Jews control everything.”
Essentially, wrote Michaelson, “Coulter is complaining that Republicans care too much about the f---ing Jews,” describing her argument as the “same unforgivably anti-Semitic trope that runs like a poison thread from Henry Ford to Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to the Hebrew-haters ‘standing with Ann’ on Twitter: that ‘the Jews’ have disproportionate power and influence in world affairs.”
Lee Smith at the online Jewish magazine Tablet was willing to give Coulter the benefit of the doubt that she was not actually anti-Semitic, writing that she had “made clear in the past” that she “admires Israel,” but still said that her tweets displayed “evidence of the degradation of American political discourse.”
What Coulter fails to realize, or perhaps just refuses to admit, is that it is irrelevant whether she is anti-Semitic. “With great power comes great responsibility,” as Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben Parker wisely said. Once you reach a certain level in our society, whether as an athlete or an actress or a journalist, you have influence and cannot disclaim all responsibility for your actions.
The firehose of hate streaming from the angriest bowels of the Internet has been too strong these past few days (and past few months in response to her immigration comments) for Coulter to have plausible deniability. Coulter may not hate the Jews or Mexicans or any other non-WASPs, but her tweets have encouraged and emboldened those who do.
Likewise for Trump: He may “love” the Mexicans as he claims, but his comments are being celebrated by people with swastikas and white supremacist slogans in their online profiles. Something he is saying is making these people believe he will stop the “browning of America” that Coulter complains about.
With many Americans still economically struggling and strong emotions on all sides of the immigration debate, the draw of tribalism and the impulse to blame “others” and “outsiders” present dangerous temptations. When Trump blames China and Mexico for America’s problems, and Coulter condemns candidates who pander to the “f---ing Jews,” they are acting as catalysts for this animosity, and are accomplices to the spread of these hateful and un-American ideas.
Coulter is too smart not to realize the danger she is courting. Her comments, and continued justification of them, are a betrayal of the principles of not just conservatism, but America.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker