Ann Coulter went off the rails Wednesday night during the Republican presidential primary debate. Apparently angry that several of the candidates kept referring to Israel, Coulter tweeted: “How many f—ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?”
The response on social media was mixed. Some defended Coulter’s remarks—“America has interests that aren’t Israel’s interests,” one Coulter supporter tweeted under the hashtag #IStandWithAnn—while others sharply criticized her. It seems that for many, the issue wasn’t the idea she was apparently trying to convey—that the candidates seemed perhaps overly focused on Israel —but rather the particularly ugly and vicious modifier she attached to “Jews.” It seemed to indicate either some sort of meltdown, or a very dark and angry corner of her mind.
Coulter has made questionable statements about Jews previously, in particular during a 2007 interview when she said that Christians “just want Jews to be perfected.” In fact, lots of Christian denominations have renounced replacement theology, or the belief that the followers of Christ have replaced the Jews as God’s chosen people. Thus, many Christians see the Jews not as a pool of potential converts but rather, in the words of Pope John Paul II, as “elder brothers.”
Coulter’s tweet also showed her to be oddly out of touch regarding American politics. The candidates talked about Israel not because they were pandering to the Jews, but because support for Israel resonates with the American public, especially with Republicans who see it as an embodiment of their own principles: faith in God, love of country, and a strong national defense. If Coulter has a problem with GOP candidates talking about Israel, she should take it up with the Republican base that Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Mike Huckabee were addressing.
The fact is that Ann Coulter also admires Israel, as she’s made clear in the past. She’s not an anti-Semite any more than the editors of The New York Times are anti-Semitic just because they published an infographic tracking how Jewish Democratic lawmakers voted on the nuclear agreement with Iran. However, both the Times’ Jew-tracker (now taken down), and Coulter’s tweets are evidence of the degradation of American political discourse.
The debate surrounding the Iran deal has legitimized the sort of hateful language and ideas normally associated with the white power right and the loony left, as well as Middle Eastern regimes. When Obama rationalized the supreme leader of Iran’s anti-Semitic rhetoric as a political instrument, or “an organizing tool,” the president unwittingly identified the place in an American context where anti-Semitic conceits were employed for the same purpose.
Administration officials, including Obama himself, used dog-whistles to attack critics of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. In a similar fashion, a New York Times article virtually charged U.S. policymakers with dual loyalty when it complained they had sided with the Israeli prime minister against their own commander-in-chief. IS the White House and its political allies in the press anti-Semitic? No, they were simply using certain conceits as a political tool to keep everyone in line and threaten potential opponents. They didn’t really mean it—they just saw it as an organizing tool.
American society, like all modern societies, is governed by a set of conventions and models established and enforced by its public elites, including policymakers and journalists, who identify those things that are to be prized and those that are to be detested. This is what coin of the realm means. If an issue is not denounced and identified as hateful and instead proves useful then it may enter the mainstream of political discourse and risk becoming an organizing tool.
Coulter’s ugly language is just evidence that it’s going to get worse. Insofar as the JCPOA is celebrated as Obama’s signature foreign policy initiative, we are celebrating an accommodation with a regime organized around anti-Semitism.
Lee Smith is the author of The Permanent Coup: How Enemies Foreign and Domestic Targeted the American President (2020).