“We put this lunatic in the White House for one reason,” she told Yahoo News. Arguably true — to wage culture war. To own the libs. Not to build the wall. If you think Trump got elected because of Coulter’s pet issue, refresh your memory of the 2016 exit poll. When asked which issue was most important to them, voters had immigration tied for last among the four options offered at 13 percent. The economy was first at 52 percent, then came terrorism at 18, a category Trump won by a wide margin. He also won big on trade: A plurality of voters agreed that international trade takes away American jobs on balance and Trump cleaned up among them, winning 64/32.
In fact, when voters were asked whether illegals working in the U.S. should be offered legal status or deported they split 70/25, with fully a third of Trump voters preferring to let them stay. It’s true that people who voted for him almost unanimously supported the wall but whether that issue was more of an asset or a liability to him isn’t clear. He won 46 percent of the popular vote; voters split 41/54 on whether the wall should be built. He drew more support than his position on that issue did, in other words. If Trump had run the same restrictionist campaign on immigration that he did minus his demand for a border wall, how many righties would have considered that some fatal flaw? C’mon.
But I digress. The point here is that the odds of a primary are improving.
“We put this lunatic in the White House for one reason,” Coulter said during an appearance on the Yahoo News political podcast Skullduggery, before suggesting that Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) would make a “terrific” challenger to the president if he runs. (Brooks did not answer the outlet’s inquiries about a run.)
“I think he will be [primary challenged],” Coulter said of Trump if he fails to fulfill immigration campaign promises. “I think for sure there’s going to be a primary challenger and it’s not gonna be Jeff Flake.”
“Mo Brooks is terrific,” she added. “The one who should be the senator from Alabama instead of [Sen.] Doug Jones [D-AL], but no Jared-boy [Kushner] said, ‘Endorse Luther Strange, he’s huge in Alabama.’”
Brooks is an interesting name because in an important way he’s the opposite of Coulter, the other would-be primary challenger about whom some border hawks have been chattering. Namely, he’s obscure. Most Republicans know who Ann Coulter is but only a tiny fraction comprised of Alabamians and devout border hawks could pick Brooks out of a line-up. And maybe that’s not a bad quality if you’re hoping to see someone give Trump a black eye in a primary to keep him honest about the wall. Brooks could attract border hawks but he could also conceivably attract some centrist voters who are eager to cast a protest vote against Trump and who would view him as a cipher, a generic “Not Trump” option. Those same people might not be willing to vote for Coulter: “I see her on that Bill Maher show and she gets on my nerves!” Brooks’s anonymity could be an asset.
But it’s a liability too. Does anyone think Brooks would be as effective in attacking Trump as Coulter would? She’s famous. A media pro. Every interview she gives is lively. Trump could ignore a challenge from Brooks but he wouldn’t be allowed to ignore Coulter. Plus, I suspect that if you’re a border hawk aggrieved by Trump’s failure to deliver a wall, you want to see him pressed as aggressively as possible by an opponent. You don’t want to cast a protest vote for a rando like Mo Brooks. You want someone who’ll channel your irritation at Trump for failing to keep his promises and get under his skin. That’s Coulter. Celebrity death match, her and POTUS.
And don’t forget that Mo Brooks is a sitting congressman. Unless he’s decided he’s had enough of Congress, it’d be political suicide for him to make trouble for Trump a few months before the big election showdown with Democrats. The whole trick with finding a primary challenger is locating someone who, for whatever reason, faces no electoral pressure. Either they don’t currently hold public office (Kasich), they’re retiring (possibly Ben Sasse), or they’re somehow so insulated from normally electoral pressures back home (Romney) that they could primary Trump and not suffer professionally for having done so. Brooks just got reelected to the House. How eager is he really to get in Trump’s face?
Which reminds me: What about Larry Hogan? He seems interested and he’s term-limited. In fact, if Brooks or Coulter or some other righty populist jumps in to punish Trump over the wall, it might make a primary challenge by Hogan irresistible. Typically we analyze primary scenarios for POTUS as if they’re destined to involve only one challenger. “Will it be Flake, or Kasich?” But not only does there not need to be only one, it’s probably the case that a challenge on Trump’s right flank will usher in one on his left. Look at it from Hogan’s perspective: If Brooks is in the race forcing Trump to move to the right, that makes it that much easier for a centrist to dive in and make a play for Republican moderates. Trump would still easily win the nomination, but the more ideological “lanes” are occupied during the primaries, the more votes he risks losing and the weaker he becomes. Trump defeating Brooks in South Carolina with 85 percent of the vote is one thing, Trump defeating Brooks and Hogan with just 70 percent of the vote is another.
And of course the logic works the other way. If Hogan is resolved to challenge Trump whether or not anyone else gets in, that would increase the odds of a challenger from the right too. The last thing Coulter wants to see is Larry Hogan dragging Trump towards the center on immigration. She or someone like her would have to run to keep him honest on the wall. It’d be a melee.
Breitbart has a segment of the audio in which she made her “lunatic” comments. She went on to add that Trump should forget about emergency powers and just use his inherent Article II authority as commander-in-chief to direct the military to build the wall — which is a more radical proposition than an emergency decree would be. Emergency powers are a bad precedent but they’ve been used before, as we all know. He might win in court if he tried that. If instead he goes to the Supreme Court and tries to convince them that Congress’s power over appropriations doesn’t really apply to the military, that … is not going to work out for him. And it wouldn’t be a narrow defeat either.