The Conscience of Ann Coulter

My latest from The Weekly Standard:

Give her credit: Ann Coulter is a woman of strong convictions. Those convictions may be wrongheaded, bizarre, and even bigoted, but she knows what she believes and is willing to hold Donald Trump accountable. Unless he builds the wall (and not just some candy-ass fence) she's done with him—ready to turn on him with the white hot bitterness of the true believer who suddenly awakes to betrayal.

It's easy to mock Coulter, who wrote a book titled In Trump We Trust, for ever thinking she could trust Trump (and I will probably go on doing so), but at least something mattered to her. Unlike the cultists for whom Trump can do no wrong, and who will not hold him to any of his promises as long as he fights the right enemies, Coulter's politics have a very clear standard. "We have been betrayed over and over and over with presidents promising to do something about immigration," she explained to the New York Times's Frank Bruni. "If he played us for suckers, oh, you will not see rage like you have seen."

Trump does seem worried. After a few days pretending that he hadn't really been rolled on the border wall (Congress allocated only $1.6 billion of the $25 billion he had requested in the budget passed last month), Trump has ramped up his anti-immigrant rhetoric, killed the deal to regularize the status of so-called "dreamers," lashed out at Mexico, and authorized sending the National Guard to patrol the border.

Long gone are the days when he mused aloud about a "bill of love." Now he's reportedly listening intently to advice from a menagerie of misfit toys, including cable talking heads like Sean Hannity and immigration hardliner Lou Dobbs. And Ann is… unhappy. (By her account, they engaged in an "obscenity laced" shouting match in the Oval Office over his "betrayals.")

The message of the hardliners is simple: If he goes all squishy on immigration, he will lose his base. Back in 2015, he launched his presidential campaign by adopting Coulter's image of "Mexican rapists" coming across the border, and he never looked back. This was the secret sauce of his improbable rise to power: He proposed banning all Muslims, deporting millions of illegal aliens and their children, and building a big beautiful wall. And it all worked. The message now: He can't go soft without dispiriting and disillusioning those voters who propelled him to the GOP nomination and the presidency.

This has been the one constant in his erratic, shambolic presidency: Whenever he feels this kind of heat, he retreats to his base, fanning the flames that keep them angry, aroused, and loyal.

Trump once joked that his voters were so devoted to his personal awesomeness that he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and they wouldn't care. And frankly, it's not hard to imagine the various ways that his fluffers in the conservative media would find a way to rationalize the shooting, blame it on the Deep State, or simply change the subject to talk about media bias and Hillary's emails. But Coulter is different. In an era in which "nothing matters," this matters to her. She's done things, said things, made sacrifices for this man, even though she says, she knew he was "a shallow, lazy, ignoramus."

She did all that because she was a believer. She was one of the "ones who would die for Trump, who would defend him from anything, who did defend him and blew off the 'Access Hollywood' tape — blew off everything" she explained to Bruni. "We kept coming back. He could sell Ivanka Trump merchandise from the Oval Office if he would just build the wall." Her phrasing about selling merchandise is interesting here, because some of us are old enough to remember when she declared that Trump could actually "perform abortions in the White House," as long as he took a hard line on Mexicans. This is what really set Ann's heart aflutter.

After Trump lashed out at Gonzalo Curiel, the Indiana-born Mexican-American judge presiding over the Trump University lawsuit, a profile in Washingtonian described her reaction. Attacking Mexicans was good racial politics, she explained. "Blacks hateMexicans," she said. "Mexicans move in and shoot black people, the jobs have been taken. Anything he says about Mexicans, his vote goes up with the brothers." (During the campaign, she bet me $100 that Trump would get the highest percentage of the African-American vote of any GOP candidate since Nixon. He didn't.)

But the point is that she has a conscience, and it would be deeply offended if it turned out that Trump had scammed her. This may strike some folks as cynical transactionalism, but Coulter is at least upfront about what she wants in return for her ardent puffery and her willingness to turn a blind eye to all of the lies, nepotism, and incompetence she admits she sees in Trump's presidency.

Coulter is hardly the only conservative who has made tradeoffs with Trumpism. House Republicans turned themselves into human shields to protect Trump from investigations into his Russian ties; evangelical Christian leaders have given him a "mulligan," over his alleged dalliance with and hush money payments to a porn star. As Trump stokes a trade war and uses his bully pulpit to vindictively attack American businesses, many "free-market conservatives" bite their tongues.

Presumably, many also have a red line of principle tucked away somewhere. But so far, it's only Coulter who has been willing to break with Trump at full volume.

In Trump World today, this is what passes for conscience.

Originally published: