In April 2009, Katrina Pierson was a disappointed Obama voter and, she emphasized, “just a mom,” when she made her first foray into politics: a seven-minute speech at the Dallas Tea Party Tax Day Rally. “No president is going to change your life circumstances,” she reminded the crowd. “No government, no friends, no family, but most certainly no president is going to change your life circumstances.”
How things change.
In November, Donald Trump handpicked Pierson, a Texas tea-party activist, conservative pundit, and erstwhile Republican candidate for Congress, to be his national spokesperson, assigning her a seemingly superhuman task. In fact, it has proven an inspired choice. In Pierson, Trump found someone whose relationship to conservatism, and to the truth, is as elastic as his own.
Start with Pierson’s professional history. Ironically, it was as a volunteer for Ted Cruz’s insurgent campaign for a Senate seat in Texas that Pierson first found the national spotlight, becoming a regular guest on cable news (including and especially Fox News). A review of appearances from Pierson’s early political career reveals no particular trenchancy, but certainly a dose of that inimitable and inborn quality: “media savvy.”
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Perhaps that is what she brought to the Cruz campaign, since the actual work she did remains a point of contention among the Cruz faithful. An activist involved in both Cruz’s senatorial and presidential campaigns told Politico, “My 8-year-old did more work for Ted than she ever thought about doing,” and Cruz insiders added that the senator never considered bringing Pierson in on his national efforts. (He did describe her as an “utterly fearless principled conservative” when she launched an unsuccessful primary bid against Texas congressman Pete Sessions in 2013.)
In any event, Pierson became a prominent Cruz supporter and even appeared on stage with him the evening of his general-election victory. And she continued to support Cruz long after Election Night: In January 2015, Pierson introduced him at a tea-party event in South Carolina, and in March she told Megyn Kelly that Cruz was “a walking testament to immigrants who have fled their countries to seek freedom and achieved the American dream.”
But since joining the Trump campaign, Pierson has been eager to suggest that it is Cruz himself who is the immigrant. “There’s a ton of voters who are a little uncomfortable voting for someone outside of the country,” she told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer earlier this month, insinuating that Cruz’s birth makes him ineligible for the presidency. Oddly, Pierson had no such concerns when she was campaigning for him — or when, in March 2015, just after Cruz’s presidential announcement and shortly after her comments on The Kelly File, she wrote on Facebook: “Repeating your wishes as facts isn’t going to make them so. Ted Cruz is a natural citizen by BIRTH and is eligible to be President,” adding: “For those constantly citing otherwise is plain whiney and the most unintelligent way to prop up your choice. So, your candidate is just going to have to bring it in the debates. Good luck!”
Consistency is not Pierson’s strong suit. In December, when South Carolina congressman Trey Gowdy endorsed Marco Rubio for the White House, Pierson tweeted: “FTR [For the record], Trey Gowdy lost all credibility when he nominated John Boehner for Speaker so he’s perfect for Marco Rubio.” But just two months earlier, the Tea Party Leadership Fund — a woefully mismanaged PAC for whom Pierson was spokeswoman — was fundraising off efforts to make Trey Gowdy speaker. She has since claimed that she merely “supported an organization that supported Trey Gowdy.” And speaking of the speaker’s office: Despite being a fierce critic of Paul Ryan’s, in 2012, the day after the Romney-Ryan ticket lost, Pierson tweeted: “Paul Ryan for House Speaker!”
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Perhaps Pierson’s inconsistencies (of which there are many), and even outright lies (same), could be chalked up to campaign “spin.” Being the mouthpiece for a politician is likely to require a certain flexibility with the facts, and Donald Trump would require a Gumby-like disposition. But Pierson’s excuses on Trump’s behalf come on top of dozens of troubling statements of her own.
The attack on Cruz’s eligibility takes on a new dimension in light of Pierson’s tweet from June 19, 2012: “Perfect Obama’s dad born in Africa, Mitt Romney’s dad born in Mexico. Any pure breeds left?” Defending the tweet, she told CNN’s Brian Stelter that “I myself am a half-breed.” Of course, she was obviously referring in her tweet not to ethnicity, but to place of birth, and suggesting that neither Obama nor Romney was “fully” American. As it happens, Donald Trump is a “half-breed,” too: His mother was born in Scotland.
Pierson’s nativism includes a bizarre streak of anti-Catholicism.
In 19th-century fashion, Pierson’s nativism includes a bizarre streak of anti-Catholicism. “Just saw a commercial from Catholic Church stating that Catholic Church was started by Jesus,” she tweeted in 2011: “I bet they believe that too. #sad.” In early 2013, she lamented that Republicans preferred “old white Catholic guys” as their messengers, naming, alongside John Boehner, Mitt Romney (a Mormon) and Karl Rove (an Episcopalian). The origins of this fixation are unclear, though a March 2012 blog post may offer a clue: “Let’s not forget that the Catholic Church supported Obama and his health care reform.”
And about Muslims Pierson’s views are, unsurprisingly, contradictory. “So what? They’re Muslim!” she told S.E. Cupp on CNN, defending Trump’s proposed Muslim ban. Yet: “Malcolm X is my #freedomfighter hero!” she tweeted in February 2013, calling Martin Luther King Jr. “too moderate.” A few months earlier, she had called the militant black separatist her “idol.” Malcolm X, of course, converted to Islam in his thirties, after breaking with the Nation of Islam.
And there are gratuitous swipes at religion per se: “They can’t handle the truth,” she wrote of Rick Santorum fans in January 2012, adding: “Most of the religious types can’t.” One month later: “#RickSantorum as most religious people, Do as I say not as I do.”
#share#If Pierson’s theological musings are of little interest to conservative voters, perhaps her thoughts on race will be. Long before Donald Trump’s presidential run, it was Katrina Pierson who denounced Republicans as racist: In 2012, Pierson retweeted a Twitter user who charged that “The (GOP) is RACIST,” and added, “Hard to argue w/Rick Santroum [sic] up front.” Elsewhere she noted, pointedly, that he had not received many “minority endorsements.” Meanwhile, three years earlier, on her personal blog, she had declared: “I am also the last person to play the race card.”
By the by, the candidate for whom Pierson is working this election cycle recently retweeted Twitter user “@WhiteGenocideTM.”
If you deduced from the above that Pierson has no particular criteria for what constitutes a conservative, you would be correct. In 2012, she rejected Santorum as “the consummate Washington insider and party man,” and threw her support behind . . . former speaker of the house Newt Gingrich.
In a long post at her blog in February 2012, she explained: “I respect a person whose difficult life experiences have molded their character for the better. I respect a person who can own their mistakes and be held accountable. I respect a person who is honest and respectful.” With that, who could disagree?
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Yet Pierson’s candidate this cycle has said that an American POW held and tortured in Vietnam for five-and-a-half years was a war hero only “because he was captured,” has mocked a disabled reporter, and has made what many interpreted as a reference to a Fox News anchor’s menstrual cycles — all since announcing his candidacy.
In the same post, Pierson warned against Mitt Romney this way: “Jimmy Carter was a successful business man, and from what I’m told, he did a number on the economy.”
Yet Pierson’s candidate this cycle has declared bankruptcy four times; has to his discredit a failed airline, line of steaks, steakhouse, board game, university, and three magazines; and is largely responsible for the syringe-laden hellhole that is Atlantic City, N.J.
Nonetheless, Pierson claims the right to arbitrate who is, and is not, conservative.
Trump is a calculator and manipulator who struck upon conservative politics as the best available vehicle to further facilitate his own self-aggrandizement.
This month, shortly after National Review released its issue editorializing against Donald Trump’s White House bid, Pierson tweeted: “Do ‘conservatives’ whom no one ever heard of before 2008 all of the sudden think they own the place?” Among the conservatives who contributed to National Review’s symposium were Stanford economist Thomas Sowell and RedState founder Erick Erickson. Funnily enough, among people who had heard of Thomas Sowell and Erick Erickson: Katrina Pierson. “Support for Newt,” she wrote in her Gingrich endorsement, “has come from Michael Reagan, Sarah and Todd Palin, Thomas Sowell, Fred Thompson, J. C. Watts, Chuck Norris, Michael Williams, and many others who have had the guts to be on the front lines of this fight.” And touting Ted Cruz’s Senate bid in July 2012, Pierson noted that his supporters included “prominent conservatives” such as “Erick Erickson.”
To this one must add that NR’s symposium also included contributions from former attorneys general Ed Meese and Michael Mukasey, and commentator Bill Kristol, all of whom (along with Sowell) have been tilling the soil of conservatism since, quite literally, before Pierson was born.
Donald Trump has been hailed as the standard-bearer of a new right-wing politics. He, of course, isn’t. Trump is a calculator and manipulator who struck upon conservative politics as the best available vehicle to further facilitate his own self-aggrandizement. If a new right-wing politics is making its debut, it is more accurately Katrina Pierson who is its voice.
#related#The tea-party movement, for all its salutary effects, always posed a particular danger: that, unmoored from a thoughtful and substantive understanding of what ideas such as “limited government” and “constitutional principles” actually mean in the conservative tradition, the movement would mutate into an inchoate disgust with politics as such. That is what has happened to Pierson. She is a true ideologue, someone who has been entirely consumed by a particular fantasy — in this case, that a villainous, infinitely expansive “Establishment” has systematically deceived voters in order to operate the levers of power in Washington, D.C., on behalf of shadowy, moneyed forces (“the donor class”). And so entrenched is this cabal that it cannot be reformed from inside by debate; it must be obliterated from without, by force — not of weapons, but of will. “We are in a war for our nation,” Pierson wrote in 2012. For her and so many others, Trump, by the force of his personality, will wrest the country back from its crisis.
What this mutant tea-party wing is clamoring for is grimly ironic: to reduce the size and scope of government by vesting power in a single individual, a Caesar who will restore the republic. It long ago escaped Pierson that the American constitutional order was erected precisely to prevent such a scheme.
In 2009, at that inaugural speech for the Dallas Tea Party, Pierson applauded her audience for seeing through Obama’s messianic façade: “Not all of us are hypnotized,” she said. “Not all of us have our heads in the sand.”
A few short years later, many on the right seem to have forgotten that false messiahs come in many forms.
— Ian Tuttle is a National Review Institute Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism.