Politics & Policy

Donald Trump, Ann Coulter, and ‘No Apologies’ Conservatism

(Mark Wilson/Getty)

Appearing with Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show, Donald Trump was in the mood to tweak his own persona — to a point. “I think apologizing’s a great thing,” he said. “But you have to be wrong. I will absolutely apologize, sometime in the hopefully distant future, if I’m ever wrong.”

It’s funny because it’s true: Trump’s steadfast refusal to apologize for his controversial antics may be the most striking thing about him. A significant portion of the Republican base craves it, and a handful of pro-Trump conservative pundits does, too. None of them looms larger, perhaps, than Ann Coulter.

It makes sense. Trump has given political expression to a model of conservative discourse perfected by Coulter and subsequently emulated by Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, Michael Savage, and others: 1) Say something controversial or provocative and get a ton of attention in the process. 2) When the media and the Left inevitably demand an apology, adamantly refuse to provide one, driving your critics batty and burnishing your conservative credentials with the base. It’s been Coulter’s modus operandi for her entire, lucrative career, and now Trump has brought it to the campaign trail: A real conservative never says he’s sorry.

Trump didn’t apologize to John McCain for his comments disparaging the Arizona senator’s service during the Vietnam War; he insisted he’d been taken out of context. After seeming to suggest that Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly had been menstruating when she asked him to defend his history of sexist remarks about women, Trump said he had done “nothing wrong whatsoever.”

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God can’t even get an apology from Trump. When Frank Luntz asked Trump if he had ever sought forgiveness from the Lord, Trump responded: “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. . . . When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed.”

After his now-infamous comment about Carly Fiorina’s face appeared in Rolling Stone, Trump offered context, but no contrition. “I’m not talking about looks — I’m talking about persona,” he said, adding that he had made the comment as “an entertainer.” When the topic came up in the GOP debate Wednesday night, Trump could only bring himself to offer an unconvincing attempt at a compliment. “I think she’s got a beautiful face,” he said of Fiorina. “And I think she’s a beautiful woman.”

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When other candidates apologize, Trump describes it as weakness. After former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley apologized to the Black Lives Matter movement for pointing out that “all lives matter,” Trump pounced. “[O’Malley] apologized like a little baby,” the GOP front-runner complained. “Like a disgusting, little, weak, pathetic baby. And that’s the problem with our country.”

(Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty)

Coulter has made a fine living with the same mantra for decades. “Never apologize, at least not for what liberals want you to apologize for,” she advised in her 2004 book, How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must). It’s a rule her critics know she follows all-too-well.

During the George W. Bush years, Coulter’s use of the terms “raghead” and “faggot” in speeches at CPAC generated some furious reactions but no public contrition. In 2012, the Today Show spotlighted a father who was demanding that she apologize for using the term “retarded,” and cease using it in the future. She insisted she wasn’t really referring to the mentally handicapped and said, “screw them!” when asked about her critics in a radio interview with Alan Colmes. (As recently as this May, Coulter wrote a column entitled, “Knowing What We Know Now, Would You Say Jeb Bush Is Retarded?”) Later that year, a Latino GOP group demanded she apologize for a column entitled, “America Nears el Tipping Pointo.” She declined to do so.

Coulter’s remarks have attracted the ire of bigger fish on the right, as well. A few months ago, Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren called on her to apologize for saying that South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who is of Indian Sikh heritage, “is an immigrant and does not understand America’s history.” No such apology was forthcoming.

#share#Toward the end of Wednesday’s debate, the candidates were asked to envision the country they’d leave behind at the end of their time in the White House. A few referenced Israel in their responses, and Coulter went nuts.

Confronted afterwards about her “f—ing Jews” line in particular, Coulter insisted that those offended or outraged simply didn’t get the point:

Past history suggests those demanding an apology should not threaten to hold their breath until they get one. After all, not apologizing has served Coulter so well over the years that even the politically ambitious have taken the hint, and to great effect: Trump continues, at least for now, to top the polls with a version of the same shtick. Its originator couldn’t be more pleased.

— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent of National Review.

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