Nobody is paying attention to Ann Coulter, and she does not like it.
“They’re ignoring me now!” Coulter wails, sitting in a conference room at the National Press Club in Washington as a large crowd filters in to hear her promote her new book, ¡Adios, America!.
“I haven’t been on CNN yet, because I was made up, my hair was done, I was mic’ed up, I was walking to the set,” where Don Lemon was anchoring, she said. “He was doing a full hour on the Doogans or whatever their name is,” she said, referring to the Duggars. Given the interest in one Duggar son’s confession of molestation, the network ended up bumping her segment. “The next night, ‘We’re going to do all Doogans again.’ And then the next week, it’s the cop who yelled at a girl in a bikini! And then it’s Bruce Jenner!”
This is the lament of a woman who became a national political celebrity by stoking outrage — who rose up alongside the cable-television networks and conservative talk-radio, needling liberals and flattering conservatives with a potent mix of hilarity, bombast, and the occasional dash of racism. This is the lament of a woman who has written an outrageous book, one immaculately designed to piss off half of America, or more. This is the lament of a woman living in a time of outrage, outrage that spreads viruslike on Twitter, television, and Facebook. This is the lament of a woman who has found herself unable to capitalize on that outrage.
This is perhaps the nation’s foremost political performance artist, living in a very strange time. Coulter arrives at the Press Club flanked by two oversize bodyguards, who serve to underscore her supermodel leanness, as does her expensive-looking cocktail dress. For the past few weeks, she has been on the road — she normally splits time between Los Angeles and New York — doing meet-and-greets and talking to anyone who will sit down with her about her new book, a jeremiad against immigration and immigrants.
“I have uncovered a massive conspiracy,” Coulter says: The government has failed to tally all the ways that immigrants are destroying America, through brazen criminal acts and damage to the social fabric. Some of the specific, questionable assertions contained within are that Americans have more to fear from Mexicans than ISIS (section title, “Headless Body Found in Borderless Country”), that “immigration cheerleaders” are conflating immigrants and native-born black Americans (the latter being more deserving than the former), and that a really, really, really big fence would help keep more Mexicans out.
It is a sprawling, occasionally hilarious, often offensive screed that all started with Coulter’s sneaking suspicion that immigrants were committing crimes at high rates. (Several academic papers conclude that immigrants commit crimes less often than native-born Americans.) “I kind of knew from prosecutor and emergency-room friends of mine about the Hispanic child-rape predilection,” she said, leaning in, her tone affable and chummy. “I thought, Let’s just look up the crimes! We’re letting all these people in. What are the crimes? You know about the credit-card frauds from the Albanians. I mean, I list them at some point in my damn book, what crimes the various immigrant groups specialize in. They’re very unusual crimes from what Americans are used to.”
She found little data on the nefarious activities of various immigrant groups, and so she went digging herself. “The government is keeping detailed records on how many Americans have carports. How many Americans have mold in their bathroom,” Coulter said. “Hey, I know, instead of taking surveys and counting on people to tell the truth about having mold in their bathroom and then having teams of statisticians pour through it, why don’t you guys, whose salaries we’re already paying, just count? Just count and tell us!”
What emerges from her research is the kind of argument that should elicit an uncomplicated response from pro-immigration liberals and the country’s 40 million or so immigrants: something like, “what, no?!” But thus far, Coulter has found herself struggling to annoy, enrage, and otherwise provoke the mainstream media or the left. Bloggers have left her alone. Twitter has left her alone. The networks have left her alone. “Nobody will debate me!” she said. “There’s been no ABC, NBC, CBS for me on this book! This is my 11th New York Times best-seller. I write them myself! I research them myself! I’m the female Bob Woodward! If I were a liberal, I couldn’t write another book, I’d be so busy collecting awards! I’d be posing for the cover of Vanity Fair!”
Granted, she has managed to spar with her two “holy grail” opponents on the topic: Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, with whom she appeared on Real Time With Bill Maher, and Univision and Fusion host Jorge Ramos. “God bless him,” Coulter said of Ramos. “We found a Mexican willing to do a job no American will do: interview Ann Coulter.”
The response on the right has been more complicated, and only a little less disinterested. Right now, the party is struggling to reconcile its distaste for undocumented immigrants with its need to expand its base, making the right immigration policy an uncomfortable, divisive issue. Coulter, for her part, thinks the answer for conservatives is to forget any form of what she calls amnesty. “You’re making a big mistake,” she said, recounting the advice she had given Hill staffers earlier that day. “This isn’t how you win. There have been two Republican landslides in the last century: Nixon and Reagan. And it was by appealing to the white vote. Specifically, the white working-class vote. That’s your base!”
But she worried that Republican candidates would duck the issue rather than staking a strong claim, thus alienating either the pro-immigration or anti-immigration crowd. Save for one candidate, she mused: Donald Trump, who had “clearly” read the copy of ¡Adios, America! that she had sent him. “Nobody talked about Hispanic child-rape until now,” she said. “That was in his opening speech!”
The Donald just might be the one to push the issue to the forefront and to pin down other candidates on their policies, she thought. “There is no possibility in any debate that there will be one question about immigration, the No. 1 issue in the country according to polls,” she said. (The economy generally trumps immigration in voter surveys.) “There won’t be one question on it! There will be six questions on gay marriage, global warming, abortion, rape, sexism, the glass ceiling, a million questions on ISIS,” she said, then rolling her eyes and snoring loudly for rhetorical effect. “But there won’t be one question on immigration. Now maybe there will be. Thank you, Donald Trump.”
The Donald poses an interesting counterpart to Coulter. Granted, Coulter is far funnier than Trump is. Her politics aside, she is the sort of person you’d want to join you for a boozy brunch. She is the sort of person you’d want as a wingman at an awkward family wedding. She’s magnetic, campy, self-deprecating, and wisecracking. The Donald, on the other hand, lacks any sense of irony at all. But squint a little and the two seem like uncanny versions of one another: blonde and bloviating, performative and ridiculous, camera-hungry and swaggering, and very much in on the joke.
That is the thing about Coulter: It has long been obvious that the provocation is deliberate, and the persona at least in part an act. Coulter bristles a little at this when I suggest it. “I’m not trying to stoke outrage,” she said. “If there were no liberals in the world, I would write the exact same book. If there were no media in the world, I would write the exact same book. I want to keep it interesting for my readers, and interesting for me!” But a few breaths later, she admits that she “loves arguing,” and says that it was much more fun to be a partisan media figure a decade ago, back when her antagonists on the other side took the bait. “Liberals decided it’s much better not to play outraged with me anymore,” she said. “I sell lots of books that way.”
Nowadays, both sides of the spectrum increasingly look — and turn their debates — inward. The political polarization that figures like Coulter helped to stoke might have inadvertently made them less potent as provocateurs. “Liberals watch MSNBC, conservatives watch Fox,” Coulter said. “They don’t want to hear ten seconds of a liberal on Fox, and they don’t want to hear ten seconds of a conservative on MSNBC. But I think that’s a mistake. I think it’s much more interesting, and intellectual, and fun to hear both sides.” She wistfully recalled the days of Hannity and Colmes.
But shortly after we talked, the outrage-attention found Coulter once again. Appearing on Fox Business, she referred to Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s governor, as “an immigrant” who “does not understand America’s history” after she suggested that South Carolina take down the Confederate flag at its statehouse. Haley was born in the small town of Bamberg, South Carolina. Coulter got raked across the internet’s coals. Somewhere, though, I bet she is smiling.