Beware the Former Trumpers

Posted March 31, 2018 2:15 p.m. EDT

Donald Trump has a boatload of problems. Ann Coulter, the author of a 2016 book titled “In Trump We Trust,” is now one of them.

A week ago, when he signed a $1.3 trillion spending bill with nothing for his promised border wall, her frustrations with him, expressed frequently in her syndicated columns, turned into fury. “Congratulations, President Schumer!” she tweeted to more than 1.9 million followers. She also fantasized on Twitter about his impeachment.

During an appearance at Columbia University on Tuesday night, she referred to him as a “shallow, lazy ignoramus.” And during a long conversation with me at The New York Times on Thursday afternoon, she sent him a warning about the wrath he’d face if the wall doesn’t rise: “The Former Trumpers should keep Donald Trump awake at night.”

Coulter isn’t just any Trump critic. She was one of his earliest, most prominent — and fiercest — advocates. He came down that escalator and ranted about Mexican rapists and she swooned. Understandably: His diatribes against immigrants were cribbed from her 2015 best seller, “¡Adios, America!: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole.” It was published around the time of his campaign announcement. She had sent him an advance copy.

“Perhaps no single writer has had such an immediate impact on a presidential election since Harriet Beecher Stowe,” David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, later observed in The Atlantic.

So Coulter was Trump’s muse. She was also his oracle, predicting his nomination and election back when most others still dismissed him as a joke. And she’s a barometer of, and tribune for, some of his core supporters, including her good friend Matt Drudge.

It’s for that reason that I pressed her to visit The Times. We spoke for about an hour. We could have clashed over an array of issues and recent statements of hers. But the agenda was her relationship with Trump and his political bind: He is pleasing neither her nor swing voters in the suburbs. That has implications not just for 2020 but also for the November midterms.

Her agreement to talk hinged in part on our history. I have been discussing politics with her for almost two decades. I remember vividly a dinner in early 2016 when she laid out for me how Trump would prevail. She mentioned Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania. I thought she was delusional. Then came Nov. 8.

What follows is a condensed and edited transcript of our conversation.

Frank Bruni: Over the last few days you have become one of Trump’s fiercest critics. What happened?

Ann Coulter: What was great about him being a coarse vulgarian was that he didn’t care about the opinions of Manhattan sophisticates, so when they come to him and say, “Oh, no, you can’t say you want to build a wall, that’s such a gauche opinion, that’s held by the people in the outer boroughs.” Anyone else would say, “Oh, no, I’m sorry, was anyone watching? Oh, I didn’t mean Mexicans are sending their rapists. I meant they’re sending their Nobel Prize winners. They’re sending their absolute best here. That’s what I meant.” That’s what any other Republican would have done — instantly gone cowering. He never did that.

But something switched Nov. 8. Suddenly it was: “Please like me, Goldman Sachs.”

Bruni: The $1.3 trillion spending bill that he signed last week sent you over the edge.

Coulter: Yes. This is a different category you’re seeing now: Former Trumpers. That should be terrifying to the president. Maybe he’ll actually keep his promises. Unlike Marco Rubio. Unlike the rest of them. Unlike Mitch McConnell. We have been betrayed over and over and over with presidents promising to do something about immigration. If he played us for suckers, oh, you will not see rage like you have seen.

Immigration should be a bipartisan issue. I wish Trump would give something like a fireside chat. That’s what he should have done the day of his inauguration: Sit in the Oval Office and say, perfectly somberly and kindly: “I said some wild things during the campaign, it sounds like it’s divisive and angry, but now we need to bring the country together. We can disagree on other things, but one thing that ought to unite us is that we want to protect the people already here.” It’s a perfectly bipartisan issue.

Bruni: I don’t want to debate immigration policy.

Coulter: But that is the issue of the Former Trumpers. We are voting on the issues, not the man, and I think that is how you get away from tribal politics.

Bruni: When you say you don’t care about the man, I immediately flashed on Stormy Daniels. You had a tweet just the other day in which you said: “Stormy says she and Trump had sex only once. I guess if you want the guy to screw you repeatedly you have to be one of his voters.” Does the Stormy Daniels story — does his behavior — bother you?

Coulter: The fact that he’s totally walked away from his central campaign promises does change your opinion of things like that and how you evaluate them. I said throughout the campaign, “This is a one-time pass for a two-time divorcé.”

Bruni: You came to prominence going after Bill Clinton for behavior like Trump’s, right?

Coulter: No, that was quite different. That’s perjury and obstruction. You can’t have a legal system if people can just take an oath and just lie. It wasn’t just the philandering.

In general, my sense of all of the claims about Trump and the women and the sexual misbehavior is that it is not true. I actually think he probably is a gentleman and is home at night at 9 p.m. sitting in bed eating cheeseburgers.

Bruni: So many women have come forward and said he made advances that were unwanted.

Coulter: That was very close to the election and they had many years to do that.

Bruni: So you don’t believe them?

Coulter: I tend to discount almost all of them. The Stormy Daniels case, you can go either way.

Bruni: One more Stormy thing, another tweet of yours, you must have been watching the interview, and you picked out the quote, “You remind me of my daughter.” Please expand on why you tweeted that.

Coulter: I was watching it live. I was in the gym so I could watch the basketball games. And I emailed it to about 100 of my friends before tweeting it, thinking, “Don’t tweet it, don’t tweet it.” And I just said, “Screw it, I’ve got to tweet it.” It’s just creepy.

Bruni: He didn’t get the money for the wall. Tell me quickly what else is wrong with that spending bill.

Coulter: I don’t know what more horrible thing you could come up with than violating your central campaign promise that became the chant and the theme of the campaign that he promised at every single rally. I mean, implementing the principles of “The Communist Manifesto” wouldn’t be more of a betrayal than that. It’s totally secondary to me, but it’s kind of hilarious that more money is being given to the Department of Health and Human Services than Barack Obama even requested in his budget.

Bruni: I don’t think people understand what an intellectual godparent of Trumpism you are. Tell us about the beginning of Ann Coulter and Donald Trump.

Coulter: This is a much happier part of the interview. First of all, much like trade, immigration wasn’t an issue that Trump just latched onto. Back in 2013, when Rubio was pushing his total-betrayal amnesty bill, Trump was tweeting like mad and I was retweeting him — and put the tweets in columns — saying: “GOP, what are you doing, this is going to destroy the country. You don’t know who you are amnestying. You don’t know how many there are.” He had great tweets on the issue.

“¡Adios, America!” came out two weeks before Trump came down the escalator. The book hadn’t even come out yet and I get an email from one of Trump’s people saying, “Mr. Trump would like a copy of your book.” I FedExed it to his office. I have avoided seeking or requesting credit on this. His instincts were very good. I think he should take credit. His instincts are amazing.

Bruni: At an Iowa campaign rally for Trump in August 2015, you said, “Since Donald Trump has announced that he is running for president, I felt like I’m dreaming.” Why?

Coulter: Every day, you’d wake up and they’d be arguing about anchor babies and sanctuary cities. We never saw that before, not on Fox, not on MSNBC. You never saw people talking about it.

Bruni: You have a strange dreamscape. My dreams don’t include anchor babies, but that’s just me. You’ve told me before that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were nowhere to be found until Trump’s poll numbers rose. That’s your prompt to talk about two of your least favorite people in the administration.

Coulter: They’re lovely people but, boy, I think Trump voters can say this was a bait-and-switch. There was no intimation during that 18 months of the most magnificent campaign I’ve ever seen that, “Don’t worry, I won’t go to the White House without Jared and Ivanka and I’ll be setting policy to make sure they lose no friends in the Hamptons.” I always suspected they were back in New York denying they were related to him.

I’ve met Jared. He’s very nice. But if a relative of mine suddenly bought Ivanka’s fashion company, I wouldn’t demand to be the one put in charge of designing the clothes and figuring out if they are going to be made in Macau or India. Not my area of expertise.

Bruni: So the two of them have no business being in the advisory roles, and in the proximity to him that they are.

Coulter: Yeah. And I’m not telling tales out of school: As was accurately reported in Michael Wolff’s book, “Fire and Fury,” I’ve told the president this and I’ve tried to get everyone else around him to tell him this.

There were all these rumors about how he was bringing his kids. They were there during the transition. Wait a second. A, they know nothing about politics. B, as far as we know, to this moment, they’ve been liberal Democrats. They’re very nice people but Bobby Kennedy was a nice person — and he knew a little bit more about politics — and when JFK made Bobby his attorney general, the press pulled its nose out of JFK’s butt just long enough to criticize him for that. We don’t like nepotism. We’re Americans. This is third-world behavior. Which is what I told the president.

Bruni: You told him this directly?

Coulter: I’ve leaked nothing from my conversations, interactions, ever. This one was leaked by someone else, and since there was only one other person on that phone call …. It was me and the president and this was during the transition.

Bruni: And he said what in response?

Coulter: First of all, I had tried to get this to him through, I think, Corey Lewandowski. Definitely Steve Bannon. Stephen Miller. Peter Thiel. I said, “You’ve got to tell him you can’t hire your kids.” And every one of them said, “That’s above my pay grade.” So when I talked to him, I said, “Apparently no one else will tell you this, but you can’t hire your kids.” And I went on quite a bit longer than that, that he was looking like Evita Perón.

He does listen, contrary to what people say. He said, “You’re right, nobody else would tell me that.” So at the Wolff book party — and I didn’t leak anything to him — I said to Wolff, “I didn’t tell you anything, how did you know I had told him this? It had to be the president or someone the president told.” And he said: “Oh, yeah, it was the president. He was storming around the Oval Office, saying, ‘And then Ann Coulter told me ….'” So, yeah, he listens.

Bruni: You implied that Trump was governing so that Jared and Ivanka wouldn’t lose their friends in the Hamptons. But he went for the Muslim ban. He backed out of the Paris climate accord.

Coulter: That was in the first week. But from mostly, probably, the reporting of Maggie Haberman — she does seem to have an excellent pipeline to the Oval Office — it was Jared’s idea to fire James Comey. It was Jared’s idea to hire Anthony Scaramucci. At any point, does it dawn on someone, “Every time I take this guy’s advice, disaster ensues?” It doesn’t seem to be hitting home. Why? Because it’s a relative.

Bruni: One of the things that most stunned me as his administration came together was he spent so much time during the campaign railing against Wall Street, fashioning himself as a populist. This was the richest Cabinet, I think, in history.

Coulter: I was terrified and I told them so. Is Trump the only person who didn’t know that generals are so PC? They are suck-ups. He’s not getting Patton. He’s getting Chihuahuas. He used to say, “I want General Patton.” Well, it’s not Patton anymore.

Bruni: One month into Donald Trump’s presidency, you said, “So far, I give him an A-plus.”

Coulter: Oh, I liked his tweets.

Bruni: You were giving Donald Trump an A-plus on his presidency because you liked his tweets?

Coulter: I think so.

Bruni: By then he had hired a Cabinet that you found abhorrent. By then he had brought Jared and Ivanka to Washington. But he’s still getting an A-plus? Even Harvard doesn’t have grade inflation like that.

Coulter: I believe my columns gave more thoughtful reviews. I think I was being a little ironic and cheerleading there because I was obviously attacking him immediately in the columns.

Bruni: What’s his grade today?

Coulter: We’re halfway through the semester and he’s failing. He could still get ahead. There’s still a shot for extra credit.

Bruni: Let me guess: It involves a wall.

Coulter: There is one thing he promised every single day for 18 months. Don’t act like I’m the nut wanting a wall. That was the chant at every rally. I didn’t make this up.

Bruni: But let’s be adults here. Was Mexico ever going to pay for it?

Coulter: No. 1, his voters absolutely do not care.

Bruni: He promised that as often as he promised the wall.

Coulter: I know, but it was like me giving him an A-plus. It was just a fun chant. I promise you: We want a wall, we don’t care who pays for it. But it’s very easy: In 10 years, if we just stopped giving Mexico foreign aid, we’d pay for it.

Bruni: Are you a Former Trumper?

Coulter: He can still come back. If he builds the wall, he’ll be the Emperor God again. I’ll throw a huge party. I’ll start a committee to put him on Mount Rushmore. But right now, if I were a betting woman, I don’t think we’re getting a wall.

Bruni: What the hell does Donald Trump believe in? What is his compass? I used to think it was applause, but now I think it’s incoherence. You’re the scholar of Donald Trump. Tell me what he believes in.

Coulter: I really think in his heart of hearts he does believe in the #MAGA agenda. I think his Achilles’ heel is that he wants to be liked. For 18 months he didn’t want to be liked by cafe society, but starting Nov. 8, he just wants applause from The New York Times. It’s very odd how he’s always running to New York Times reporters and writers and not particularly giving interviews to the people, the broadcasters and the radio hosts, who supported him. Why is he calling it fake news when it’s all he wants to be on?

Bruni: You told me he was going to prevail in the primaries and the general election. Look into the future now. When and how does this presidency end?

Coulter: I really don’t know. He still could come back. He can build the wall. He’s commander in chief. Will he do it? I wouldn’t bet on it right now.

Bruni: Will he be impeached?

Coulter: That I don’t know. Things aren’t looking good for holding the House.

Bruni: Will Republicans hold either the House or Senate?

Coulter: Senate math suggests Republicans hold the Senate. If it is a blue wave, the Democrats take the House. I think they might not impeach him. They may think they can get more from this guy than they would under Hillary Clinton.

Bruni: They may think he’s better taken advantage of than impeached?

Coulter: Yeah. If they impeach him, I think Republicans might want to get rid of him. I think they might rather deal with Mike Pence and not have to be constantly asked by reporters about this and that tweet.

Bruni: Does Trump have anywhere, politically, to go? Look at his loss of the popular vote. We’re talking about 77,000 votes in three states. I could argue it’s a fluke he was elected. If he pleases those who elected him, I’m not sure that he gets re-elected, but if he moves as far away from you as you say he has, I still don’t think he can get the people in the middle. Does he really have a political path to survival?

Coulter: That’s a really good point. The hate for him on the left is visceral. Graydon Carter is never going to say, “Well, I have to admit he’s done something right.” The only way he has to go is to go back to the #MAGA agenda.

Bruni: But I don’t think that’s enough either.

Coulter: I disagree. I think it would be. A, it’s his only chance, although it may not help Jared and Ivanka be popular in the Hamptons. B, I think he can win independents over. He has not been a fascist. When a court unconstitutionally says he can’t ban immigrants on the basis of national security or what’s good for the county, he complies.

Bruni: We have heard and we have written endlessly about Never Trumpers. What are Former Trumpers? If he loses you Former Trumpers permanently, what’s he left with?

Coulter: This is not Never Trumpers. It was very easy to brush aside Jeb Exclamation Point. Charlie Sykes. Bill Kristol. The Former Trumpers are 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. We kept coming back. He could sell Ivanka Trump merchandise from the Oval Office if he would just build the wall.

If he doesn’t have us anymore — that’s what he should be worried about, because, you play those people for suckers? The ones who stood by him through thick and thin and thought this was finally something different? Former Trumpers should put the fear of God in him.

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