Amanda Carpenter has packed more than most into her 26 years. Now a daily columnist at the Washington Times, Carpenter reported on national politics for TownHall.com, blogged the ’08 election for Glamour magazine, and maintains a constant presence on cable news, where she spars with everyone from Larry King to Chris Matthews. At the tender age of 24, she published her first book, The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy’s Dossier on Hillary Clinton (Regnery, 2006).
Not that Carpenter is slowing down. Her column for the Times, “Hot Button,” is a wide-ranging investigation of politics and media in D.C., Hollywood, and beyond, and has covered everything from the culture wars as they play out on “American Idol” to rapper Eminem’s fascination with Sarah Palin. She also produces a video series for the paper’s website, “The Back Story with Amanda Carpenter,” where she hones her already impressive on-camera skills.
Carpenter is undeniably one of the right’s great hopes, but little in her background would have suggested such an outcome. The Montrose, Michigan native had little interest in politics growing up, and her family rarely discussed such matters. “It’s definitely not the typical church-going, Republican-voting kinda family that a lot of people assume I’m from,” she says, “You know, where we all wear pearls on the weekend or something. There’s no trust fund here, unfortunately.”
Without a Buckley or Kristol pedigree, Carpenter’s path to conservative punditry was far from assured. She entered college on a softball scholarship, but her career as a pitcher—and the financial aid it brought—came to an end when she was sidelined by a shoulder injury. In 2003, she transferred from Indiana’s Tri-State (now Trine) University to Ball State, a significantly larger university in Muncie, where she became an active member of the school’s debate team. Nevertheless, she says, “I was not remotely politically active until my junior year of college.”
To pay for college, Carpenter worked stints at the Gap, 7-11, a country club, and the school library. Writing hefty tuition checks led her to wonder “what tuition dollars are funding.” So she set up a website, the now-defunct bsyou.net, where she scrutinized various administrative expenditures, including a $20,000 speaking fee paid to Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser.
Soon, the entire schools was buzzing about the site, especially after Carpenter fashioned a “Wanted” ad for a professor who had recently been arrested for trespassing. “He said that I committed a hate crime, because I allegedly made him look Arab in the photo, which was just his university photo,” she laughs. “He had a beard.” The beard, she assures, was his own and not something she Photoshopped in. Nonetheless, scandal ensued.
Soon, Ball State’s College Republicans were seeking out the hot new campus provocatrice. Carpenter never officially joined the group—”If I wasn’t at one of my jobs,” she explains, she was at home updating bsyou.net. But her investigations of the university’s spending led her to see the need for fiscal responsibility on a larger scale, which brought the formerly apolitical student to conservatism. “My number-one issue has always been spending, from college to now,” she says.
So Carpenter decided to make a career out of it. Upon graduating in 2005, she got an internship with the Arlington, Va.-based Leadership Institute, which led to a reporting job at Human Events. Not long after, Regnery, the paper’s affiliated publishing house, asked her if she wanted to write a book on Hillary Clinton. “And of course I said yes.”
While too young to have succumbed to all-out Clinton-phobia—”I didn’t live through the whole ‘We hate Hillary’ phase,” she says—Carpenter was disturbed by what she found out about the New York senator while researching her book. She brought Bill Clinton’s speaking engagements abroad, which netted him and his wife over $27 million, to the public’s attention. “All the foreign money that Bill Clinton was getting,” she says, might have funded his wife’s presidential campaign, yet “nobody was worried about this.”
Carpenter’s book won favorable press from conservative outlets such as National Review, but the book didn’t sell as well as it might have a few years back when “Hillary-hate” was at its peak. Still, Senator Clinton’s presidential campaign led to a resurgence of interest in the book: GQ reported that 1,000 copies were distributed, along with “Hillary barf bags,” at a D.C. conservative convention.
After three years in conservative media, Carpenter entered the mainstream during the 2008 campaign, when she was one of five female bloggers—and the lone conservative—contributing to Glamour magazine’s election blog, Glamocracy. “It was a little bit hard for me,” she says, “because everything had to be so women-focused.” And while she’s all for girl power, “I would never identify myself as a feminist,” she says. Inspired by the Independent Women’s Forum, she prefers the word “independent” to describe herself and other hard-charging, conservative women today.
While the outcome of the 2008 election has sparked heated debate among Republicans about a new direction for the party, Carpenter has her sights trained on government spending. “I think the vote for the stimulus is going to end up being for the Republican party what the vote for the Iraq war was for the Democrats,” she says. “Now’s the time for the moderate Republicans who supported that agenda to leave the party.” Carpenter champions a younger set of leaders, such as Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin, who value fiscal responsibility and who will, she hopes, help “rebrand” the GOP.
Yet for all her passion for politics, Carpenter does not see herself running for office now or in the future.
“I’ve never, ever, ever been the student council type. Ever.”