How Ann Coulter Created Donald Trump
America's most-hated provocateur has become the defining intellectual force behind the Republican candidate's anti-immigration populism.
Ann Coulter on her tour of "Los Angeles Immigration Hot Spots." Photo by Jason Altaan
It was an afternoon in early July, just before the Republican National Convention, and Ann Coulter was sitting in the back of a baby-blue Mercedes SUV, speeding through Thai Town in Los Angeles. Ray Bans covered her eyes, a Louis Vuitton belt wrapped around her waist, and the sun lit her blond hair like a spotlight. As ABBA's "Fernando" played over the car stereo, she sipped coffee out of a green straw and pointed at a group of Latino people on the sidewalk. "Look, there's a Thai!" she remarked wryly. "More Thais!"
She's taking me on what she calls the "Ann Coulter Tour of Los Angeles Immigrant Hot Spots." In addition to Thai Town, these "hot spots" include Koreatown and Little Ethiopia—three historic ethnic enclaves that Coulter claims have been flooded by Hispanic immigrants. "We don't have time for Compton," she told me, "but you'll have to take my word for it."
The goal of the expedition, Coulter said, is to show me the overwhelming effects that immigration—and specifically, immigration from Mexico—has had on Southern California neighborhoods. "They're all Mexican. This is diversity," she said. "Welcome to Thai Town! We're gonna get a Thai taco. With any luck, we'll get some Thai graffiti."
If this were any other year, Coulter's comments—indeed, the very idea of an "Ann Coulter Immigration Tour" in the first place—would have seemed ludicrous. But new rules apply in 2016: Coulter's anti-immigration positions, outlined in her 2015 manifesto Adios, America: The Left's Plan to Turn America into a Third-World Hellhole, have been adopted wholesale by Donald Trump, providing the intellectual foundation for the Republican candidate's signature policy.
For better or for worse, that's made Coulter one of the country's most influential policy minds. "Perhaps no single writer has had such an immediate impact on a presidential election since Harriet Beecher Stowe," the Atlantic's David Frum wrote about Coulter last December.
That influence was confirmed again last week, when Trump gave an immigration speech detailing a ten-step plan very similar to the ones Coulter outlined in Adios, America. The proposal included building a wall—which Mexico, of course, would pay for—ending the "catch-and-release" strategy to rid America of "criminal aliens" and banning immigrants from countries where the US is not able to complete thorough background checks, as determined by Trump.
Like Coulter, Trump described new immigration laws as vital to protecting the livelihood and culture of working-class Americans. "Immigration law doesn't exist just for the purpose of keeping out criminals," Trump told an audience in Phoenix, Arizona.
"It exists to protect all aspects of American life—the worksite, the welfare office, the education system, and much else. That is why immigration limits are established in the first place. If we only enforce the laws against crime, then we have an open border to the entire world."
As Trump continues to embrace her anti-immigrant positions, Coulter has in turn become an ardent evangelizer for the Republican presidential candidate. "I have been in heaven since June 16—[the] Mexican rapist speech," she told me.
She spent most of this past winter and spring telling anyone who would listen to vote for Trump, running what she calls her "shadow campaign" to get the real estate mogul elected. For months, she's been making bets with Trump doubters she encounters at bars and parties—she claimed she won $5,000 from an assistant for one of the Koch brothers who bet Trump would lose the primary—but conceded it's not a particularly effective way to elect a candidate.
"I can't keep cornering the anti-Trump people individually at parties and bars and forcing them to make a bet," she said.
On August 23, she published a new screed, subtly titled In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome! The book defends Trump as the "Great Orange hope," making an impassioned case for the white populist nostalgia he's brought back into the conservative movement. It has become her 12th New York Timesbestseller.
"People are saying it's terrific," Trump tweeted the day the book was released, "knowing Ann I am sure it is!"
A little more than a year ago, before Trump announced his candidacy, Coulter thought her anti-immigration rhetoric would ruin her career. She worried Adios, America would flop and predicted television networks would ban her from the air for life. "I thought I would live under the Brooklyn Bridge," she said, looking back. "I knew it would be the end of my career."
Coulter had started writing about immigration a few years earlier, around the time that then president George W Bush was trying to pass an immigration-reform bill that included a conservative plant to provide undocumented workers with a pathway to citizenship. In May 2007, Coulter wrote a series of attacks on the bill, under headlines like "Importing a Slave Class" and "A Green Card in Every Pot."
"Americans—at least really stupid Americans like George Bush—believe the natural state of the world is to have individual self-determination, human rights, the rule of law, and a robust democratic economy," she wrote at the time. "In fact, the natural state of the world is Darfur. The freakish aberration is America and the rest of the Anglo-Saxon world."
After that, at the end of her speeches—about Scooter Libby, gun rights, Obamacare, whatever the conservative topic of the day—she started mentioning immigration. And the crowds would go wild.
Adios, America started as a chapter, not a book. Regnery, the conservative imprint that publishes Sarah Palin, had given Coulter a deal to write a different book, but while doing research, she says she stumbled across what she believed was a conspiracy to mask the true number of immigrants committing crime in the country. Convinced that the media, politicians, and government statisticians had pulled the wool over the country's eyes when it came to the real state of immigration in America, Coulter persuaded her publisher to let her devote an entire book to the topic.
The resulting work laid out her immigration views in detail, including alleged crime and public-safety problems Coulter attributed to new immigrants. It also outlined a series of solutions that she proposed would fix America's broken immigration system: building a wall, deporting undocumented immigrants, and placing a ten-year moratorium on immigration—all immigration—before implementing a new entry process based on labor skills, rather than family preference or per-country visa caps.
In short, it was a set of ideas remarkably similar to what Trump is proposing in his presidential campaign.
When the book was done, Coulter started sending out hardcover copies annotated with Post-It notes to Republicans that seemed likely to run for president. Then, shortly before the book was published, her good friend Matt Drudge encouraged Coulter to debate her ideas with Jorge Ramos, one of the country's most respected Hispanic journalists. So in May 2015, several days before Adios, America hit the shelves, Coulter appeared with Ramos in a Fusion television special called "Ann's America."
"If you don't want to be killed by ISIS, don't go to Syria," Coulter told Ramos as they argued the points in her book. "If you don't want to get killed by a Mexican, there's nothing I can tell you."
One viewer was apparently Donald Trump. Shortly after the special aired, Coulter says, one of his employees emailed her asking for an advance copy of the book. About a month later, on June 16, 2015, Coulter woke up to see that her ideas had made an impact: Trump was running for president, using an anti-immigration platform ripped straight from the pages of her book.
"[Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with [them]," Trump declared in his now-infamous announcement speech. "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime."
In the weeks following, Coulter kept hearing Trump mention talking points she'd outlined in her book, listening proudly as he blamed the heroin epidemic on Mexico and attacked corporations for replacing American workers with foreigners on H-1B visas.
"TRUMP READ IT!" Coulter crowed in an email to me this past March as I was working on another story for Broadly. "Anchor babies, building a wall, how many illegals are here (minimum: 30 to 50 million), Mexican rapists, immigrant crime, the heroin epidemic brought to us by Mexico, H-1B workers—all this is from Adios, America! You might have found some of that elsewhere (if you looked really hard), but the immigrant crime wave, and specifically the Latin American rape culture, has never been written about until ADIOS, AMERICA!"
Coulter has described her opposition to immigration as being driven by "cultural" rather than "racial" reasons; in short, she believes Latino and Muslim immigrants come from countries with cultures that advocate rape, murder, homophobia, and drug use, and therefore pose a threat to both US security and America's cultural identity. In practice, of course, her ideas are vaguely racial—and sometimes outwardly racist—calling for the preservation of American culture as defined by decidedly white British and Dutch settlers.
Like Trump, she sees immigration as a threat to both the country's safety and its national identity, striking a defiantly populist tone as she accuses immigrants of taking jobs from working-class people, primarily African Americans and the lower-income white voters who make up Trump's base of support.
"Immigration is never going to affect George Soros or Rupert Murdoch or Megyn Kelly or Rachel Maddow—it's not coming to their neighborhoods," said Coulter, who graduated from Cornell University and splits time between her residences in Beverly Hills, Manhattan, and Florida. "They don't know anybody who lost a job because of a bad trade deal. They don't know any steelworkers, coal miners, and they don't particularly care."
This type of anti-immigration populism isn't exactly new. The ideas Coulter outlined in Adios, America had been bouncing around the right-wing blogosphere and talk-radio circuit since at least the 1980s, espoused by conservative pitchfork-wielders like Pat Buchanan and more recently by the white nationalists and "identarians" who post on websites like VDARE.
"In terms of writers and pundits, that was about it," Coulter said in an email. "There were specifically immigration-concerned groups like NumbersUSA and fabulous members of Congress, like the sainted [Alabama Senator] Jeff Sessions, but those you could count on one hand."
It was the self-described "neoliberal" blogger Mickey Kaus, a prominent anti-immigration writer from California and close friend of Coulter's, who first talked to her about the overwhelming presence of Latino immigrants in California. "No one needed to point it out to me—just visit [California] sometime," Coulter emailed. "Mickey, like most So[uthern] Californians, noticed it and didn't like it."
As we drove around LA in July, Coulter said the influx of immigrants to California—particularly those from Mexico—had led to a cultural shift in one of her favorite states. Looking around the city, noting the Spanish billboards, graffiti, and street corners crowded with Latino workers, she agreed. On our tour, she pointed out things like Mexican restaurants in Asian neighborhoods and the aforementioned graffiti, ordering VICE's photographer to only take photos of her in front of signs in Spanish.
"This is the heart of Koreatown," she said at our first stop, a Mexican restaurant called Mexican Village on Third Street. "I just looked up a random address in Koreatown." We drove past the restaurant and toward a parking lot where a Latino woman in a pink shirt stood with her family.
"We are going to drive through, and you'll see a lot of Koreans named Pepe," Coulter added sarcastically. "We are just going to drive around to look at all the Koreans here in Koreatown."
For the first two weeks of Trump's campaign, Coulter said she tried not to get too excited; she expected him to backtrack and ease up on his anti-immigration rhetoric as so many Republican politicians had done before. When he didn't—and even doubled down on his hardline proposals, most notably the border wall—Coulter and Trump's then campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, began corresponding with each other.
The pair stayed in touch via email for the first several months of the GOP primary, with Coulter berating Lewandowski about the need for Trump to stand firmly behind his immigration platform. According to Coulter, Lewandowski, who was fired from the campaign this past May, promised that the candidate wouldn't back down.
Even after Lewandowski's departure, as the campaign moved past the Republican primaries, Trump seemed committed to his anti-immigration stance. Though he studiously avoided giving specifics on any other policy plans, Trump continued to spout out details about what he would do to curb illegal immigration and protect American borders. And it worked: Conservative audiences ate up Trump's message, handing him the GOP nomination because of, rather than despite, his controversial immigration positions.
The nods to Coulter also continued apace. Over the summer, Trump announced an "expansion" of his ban on Muslim immigrants, echoing ideas laid out in Adios, America. And he got into a high-profile sparring match with Khzir Khan, the father of a slain Muslim soldier, who had criticized Trump at the Democratic National Convention, insinuating that Khan's wife stayed silent because of Muslim opposition to women's rights. The controversy, which dragged on for weeks, had Coulter written all over it.
The result has been to fundamentally change the way that the Republican Party talks about immigration, moving Coulter's ideas from the fringes of the conservative intellectual sphere to the center of the party's policy platforms. And though Coulter herself has remained somewhat of a political outsider, she has appeared with growing frequency on cable news shows and in radio interviews and asked to translate Trump's positions on the issue that has brought them together.
"Ann's influence has been huge and transformative," Kaus wrote in an email. "Basically Trump read it, and it prompted his epic rant, which propelled his candidacy from out of nowhere. Tinder, spark. She understood that the MSM-suppressed crime news was an emotional and political point of outrage."
In In Trump We Trust—a book Coulter wrote at breakneck speed this spring, in order to get it published before Labor Day—she lays out a similar set of policy ideas to the ones developed in Adios, America, positioning Trump as the anti-immigration cultural savior that Coulter had called for. "None of the other candidates could approach Trump on immigration because they were dependent on wealthy contributors," she writes.
The book continues: "The problem with trying to find an old-school WASPy, understated, less-is-more, antique leather, sturdy wood-and-brass type to take on Trump's positions is that all those people agree with NPR on everything. Their good taste is their undoing. Only someone who brags about his airline's seatbelt buckles being made of solid gold would have the balls to do what Trump is doing."
Throughout the book, Coulter acknowledges the absurdity of a billionaire reality star transforming into the working-class hero she longed for, but when we talked in July, she said she had begun to understand how Trump fell into that role.
"Trump grew up working construction sites. That is also why he talks like that—which is so great," she told me. "It is like a Shakespearian play: There is high comedy and low comedy. Trump is hitting it exactly right. That is, both his grammar is his simpatico with them, and he has always been like that. I mean, I never really cared about him until the Mexican rapist speech, but then when I looked up old articles with him—and interviews with him—he has always said, 'I don't really get along with rich people. They don't like me. I like the cab drivers and the workers.'"
Then, a few weeks ago, just as Coulter was preparing to launch a publicity tour for In Trump We Trust, Trump's campaign began to suggest that his positions on immigration might be softening. For more than a week, Trump's new campaign manager, the Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway, and even Trump himself, hinted that he may have eased up on some of his more hardline immigration stances.
"Now, everybody agrees that we get the bad ones out," Trump told Sean Hannity in a televised immigration town hall on August 24. "But when I go through and I meet thousands and thousands of people on this subject, and I've had very strong people come up to me, really great, great people come up to me, and they've said, 'Mr. Trump, I love you, but to take a person who's been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and their family out, it's so tough, Mr. Trump.' I have it all the time! It's a very, very hard thing."
When I spoke to her that same week, Coulter blamed Trump's possible change on his new campaign advisors. This new reliance on the GOP consultant class that Coulter—and until recently, Trump—had railed against for years incensed her.
"I think he said something stupid," she wrote in an email. "He's done it before, and he'll do it again. At least his entire platform isn't stupid, unlike every other person who ran or is running for president this year. What the [sic] f— did the moron who told Trump to say this think he was getting out of it? He demoralized his base, and people who already hated him don't like him any more, but now they can accuse him of being a flip-flopper."
But just when it looked like Trump had finally gone soft, the Republican candidate redeemed himself, at least in Coulter's eyes. Last week, in his immigration speech, he doubled down on the campaign promises that he made in the "Mexican rapist speech" that converted Coulter to his campaign in the first place. When asked about her thoughts on the speech via email, Coulter said, "Better than Lincoln's Gettysburg address."
As hyperbolic as that might sound, it's clear that Coulter believes the stakes are that high. "Unless Trump wins, there will be no Republican Party—which is now, the all-new Trumpian Republican Party!" she wrote me. "(He's already blown up the old Republican Party.)"
So what will she do if Trump loses? "First [write] a cookbook, and then mysteries," she told me.
And if he wins?
"Oh my God, I won't stop smiling! I'll be so happy. I'll dance a jig," she said. "And the only job I want: FCC chairman."
Correction: An earlier version of this piece stated that Coulter was prompted to write Adios America after uncovering statistics about the number of immigrants in the US. In fact, she says she was prompted to write the book after uncovering statistics about the number of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants living in the US.
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