T he enter tainer

October 29, 2013

You already know whether you love her or loathe her.

But try to put feelings aside for a moment, because Ann Coulter is training her critical eye on her party, the Republican Party. This could get interesting.

A set of wall-to-wall interviews has brought her down to D.C. from New York’s Upper East Side to hawk her new book and pontificate on the state of the GOP. There is much to comment on: the government shutdown, Republicans eating their own in primary challenges, immigration reform, President Obama’s health-care law. She could go on.

Coulter walks into her first interview of the day with a cafe latte in her right hand and a black leather purse slung over her left arm. Both are in sublime balance as she glides through the lobby of the ABC News bureau in downtown Washington.

It is 9:23 a.m.

“It’s so early,” Coulter says. She prefers waking at noon.

First stop: makeup.

“Very light . . . so it looks like I got some sleep,” she gamely instructs, pointing under her eyes.

On the elevator ride up to the TV studio, she complains to her escort about not getting booked on the big-time programs. “Is this an Internet show? I want to be on ‘George Stephanopoulos.’ ”

On this day, she’ll have to settle. She has a book to sell.

“The world’s gone mad. My timing is just right,” she tells Rick Klein, ABC News’s political director, with whom she makes her Web TV appearance.

Ann Coulter is one of her generation’s most famous political writers and talking heads. Her salty punditry appalls as many liberals as it delights conservatives. Her latest book, with the gangly title “Never Trust a Liberal Over 3 — Especially a Republican,” is her 10th. Her collection of books has sold more than 1.8 million copies, according to Nielsen.

“Democrats love government,” she writes in her new book. Typical Coulter — you think — ridiculing the left.

You can almost hear the tires screeching as she makes an abrupt U-turn.

“Republicans don’t want careers in government and give little thought to how to get there,” she writes. “Often they run for president only because they hope it will lead to more speaking gigs and TV appearances. That may explain why Republicans seem to attract the sort of candidate who enjoys startling people at cocktail parties with outlandish remarks. There’s a great living to be made by appealing to rubes and hotheads. Even if you lose, you’ll get a talk show.”

Two pages later: “About half of the Republican presidential candidates in the last two election cycles would have inspired every stupid woman in America to drive to the polls, sobbing, in order to vote against them.”

Ann Coulter is going fratricidal. Again.

‘You managed to control your nuts’

Coulter is the walking embodiment of the deep unhappiness Republicans are feeling.

Public records put her age at 51, although she has shaved off years in past interviews. Whatever her age, she has been around long enough to have stepped onto the scene in the wake of Bill Clinton’s impeachment scandal, when she wrote her first book and left behind Capitol Hill and litigating for punditry.

She became a bestselling author known for making bombastic statements. She saw the rise of the compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush and the resurgence of Democrats under Obama. She’s trying now to look ahead.

Three, two, one. “You guys ready?” an ABC producer asks.

Camera on.

Rick Klein: “Okay, Ann Coulter’s picks for 2016.”

Coulter: “All I care about is that we only have governors and senators in our primaries. I’m guilty of it. I supported Duncan Hunter for a while. I was on the 9-9-9 bandwagon. Love Herman Cain. Okay, I learned my lesson. . . . No Ben Carson. No congressmen. No inspirational leaders.”

She smiles and Klein wraps. “Ann, thanks for being here,” he says.

Camera off.

“I had dinner with Mickey Kaus last night and I asked him, ‘How did your party stop doing this infighting? You managed to control your nuts,’ ” Coulter tells Klein. She’s referring to her friend Kaus, a political blogger who launched a quixotic run for the U.S. Senate as a “common-sense Democrat” against Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) in California and now writes for the Daily Caller, a conservative publication.

Her own fratricide has a purpose, she says later, offering a new Coulter-ism: “I’m attacking Republicans who are attacking Republicans.”

Ann Coulter wants to control “the nuts.”

‘I couldn’t take it’

This is a moment to consider: Is Ann Coulter happy?

Have the electoral losses, political missteps and party infighting become too much even for this famously self-proclaimed right-winger? Is she, who has made politics into a cage match, disenchanted?

This isn’t a rhetorical question. After the 2012 election, Coulter says, she experienced a depression that lasted almost six months. She lost her father in 2008 and her mother died in 2009. Obama’s reelection brought on a slump akin to the grief she felt after losing her beloved parents, she says.

“I didn’t turn on political news. I didn’t listen to talk radio,” she recalls.

She began watching “Gossip Girl” and the Turner Classic Movies channel. Earlier this year, Coulter wrote one of her weekly syndicated political columns about bad inventions because she refused to pay attention to the news.

“I couldn’t take it,” she says.

During the debate about gun regulation following a school shooting in Connecticut, where Coulter was born, she felt herself snapping out of it. She began writing about gun control, mass shootings and the “disastrous consequences of the de-institutionalization movement.”

More recently, she found the government shutdown energizing. “I’m happy seeing Cruz and Lee,” she says, referring to Republican Sens.Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Mike Lee (Utah), who pushed the government closure as an expression of their opposition to the Obama administration’s health-care law.

Coulter needed the boost. Book tours are her least favorite part of being Ann Coulter. She’d rather be in her Upper East Side apartment finishing up a half-read copy of E. Fuller Torey’s “The Insanity Offense: How America’s Failure to Treat the Seriously Mentally Ill Endangers Its Citizens.” Instead, she is out here making the media rounds and posing for photos.

Often before the camera starts rolling or the microphone is turned on, Coulter pops a piece of Nicorette gum.

“I think I was born a smoker,” she says, pausing a moment before adding the punch line, “If you can be born gay, you can be born a smoker.”

She stopped smoking 10 years ago but still loves nicotine gum, she tells Chris Plante, the host of a conservative talk radio show on WMAL. “I look like a hick, and it’s expensive, but it’s not bad for you.”

Coulter and Plante are sitting in the radio studio in Upper Northwest waiting for a commercial break to end. A ghoulish poster that reads, “The Rise of Zombie Liberals” is pinned to the wall. Another promotes the talk-radio shows of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. Both men look decades younger than they are now.

The “on air” light flashes red.

A caller is on the line. It’s Angela from Montclair. “So what do we need to do to build a strong machine, an effective machine? . . . There has to be something we can do to win.”

“I totally agree with you, Angela,” Coulter says. “Take the Virginia governor’s race. [GOP candidate] Ken Cuccinelli is down about 10 points. Guess what the libertarian is polling at? Ten points! We need some strategic hunting accidents, airplane crashes. We need Luca Brasi in our party.”

Coulter looks around the studio for a reaction. Her press attache’s eyes widen. Did she really just say that? Plante, the radio host, laughs.

‘Point your guns outward’

Off mike, Ann Coulter says “thank you” — often.

Rolling in a Town Car past the Lincoln Memorial, she says aloud, “It’s a beautiful day.” She calls TV bookers, producers and young conservative bloggers who consider her a mentor, her friends. At book signings, she poses for pictures with fans, instructing them to stay on the other side of the table and lean in.

Her current message is for the GOP’s true believers, the tea partyers, and the so-called RINOs (Republicans in name only).

Political elders within the Republican Party have called the recent government shutdown a failure. She calls it “magnificent” because it branded the party as “anti-Obamacare.” Far-right conservatives are threatening the party’s established leaders with primary challenges; Coulter argues against battling incumbent Republicans in moderate states. But she is also a big booster of Cruz and Lee, who have challenged the orthodoxy of congressional Republican leadership.

“There is such a disincentive to be a public conservative in America,” she says. “What’s with the circular firing squad? Point your guns outward.”

Inward, outward. Coulter seems to be aiming every which way.

She once boosted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a 2016 presidential candidate. Then the governor’s Senate appointee voted for “amnesty,” she says. So, too, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), another Republican whose name has made the list of potential 2016 candidates. Rubio has earned her full derision with the push to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. (She has called him a “narcissist” and her book includes a reprint of an April 2013 column that says, “Rubio’s amnesty isn’t just bad for America, it’s the end of America.”) Rubio’s office had no comment, although coincidentally the senator told CNN last week that he has returned to advocating a piecemeal approach to immigration rather than pushing the bipartisan bill he worked on earlier this year.

All Republicans who support overhauling immigration laws are on her “out” list, including Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and John McCain (Ariz.).

“I care about America’s poor, America’s working class, America’s minorities. Why would you bring in minimum 14 million low-wage, non-taxpaying workers?” she says. “The entire country becomes California. No Republican will ever win another election.”

Actually, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, about half of illegal immigrants pay taxes. Nonetheless, Coulter’s campaign against immigration reform could carry weight.

‘We’re just talking’

Her business model is no mystery: capture the public debate with provocative ideas and language, such as arguing that liberals are part of a godless mob. Push her ideas and books hard across media. Swipe back when prominent Dems say she has gone too far. Make headlines. Sell more books.

Get attention. Get attention. Get attention.

Tucker Carlson, the editor in chief of the Daily Caller, which held a book party for Coulter last week, says “her books are hilarious. They are a middle finger directed at most of the world.”

In the past, Coulter’s constituency has embraced her invective, her hyperbole, her humor and her ideas. They stood by her when she called 9/11 widows who were demanding an investigation of the terrorist attacks “harpies.” And when she used the words “retard” and “sissies” in political commentary.And when she praised Herman Cain by saying, “Our blacks are so much better than their blacks.”

Does she think she goes too far? Any regrets?

“I was wrong when I was nice to Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie. Nobody’s perfect,” she responds with a smile. (She supported Clinton in 2008 over John McCain in a show of her dislike for the moderate Republican.)

In a more serious moment, she says the political context in which she used the word retard in a tweet about Obama made clear she was not making fun of children with Down syndrome.

“Those of us who chitchat for a living, we are supposed to be making the outlandish statement at the cocktail party,” she says. “We make [the politicians] look moderate. We’re just talking.”

‘I so obviously do not care’

Coulter is outside her last stop of the day. She’s sitting in her Town Car wrapping up another talk radio interview and running late for her remarks at the Heritage Foundation’s biweekly bloggers briefing.

Her driver has pulled into an alley behind the foundation’s red-brick building on Massachusetts Avenue. Although she often wears a baseball cap on the train to avoid being recognized, she says the lefties rarely bother her; it’s the conservative zealots who talk her ear off.

Hanging outside and smoking a pipe, Bartlett Naylor frowns when he learns Coulter is in the car. He works in the building next door as a financial policy advocate for an organization founded by Ralph Nader. His building is on the left side of the alley; Heritage is on the right. “She can’t really believe that stuff she’s saying. She’s too intelligent,” Naylor says. He sticks around and catches a glimpse of Coulter sweeping past, into the building.

“Generally, I think it drives them crazy that I so obviously do not care,” she says later when a young blogger asks why she’s a “conservative the liberals love to hate.” “There’s this sense that they haven’t gotten to me, and ‘We just want to make her cry.’

“Well, good luck with that,” she adds. “Not since my beagle died when I was 14.”

And ... cut!

Krissah Thompson began writing for The Washington Post in 2001. She has covered local businesses, traveled to El Salvador and Guatemala to tell stories of immigrants’ connections to their home countries and reported from the newsroom’s Prince George’s County bureau. More recently, she has written about civil rights, race and politics.
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