Americans love to watch public figures eviscerated publicly. Progressives love to bash conservatives. And the media will go out of their way to cripple conservative candidates (even if it means missing wildly and making an ass out of themselves, i.e., Wolf Blitzer and Marco Rubio’s water bottle). But progressives, the media and the American public will eventually cease their assault, if for no other reason than the story gets old and the appetite for schadenfreude eventually wanes.
For over two years now, center-right political professionals — from Charles Krauthammer and Karl Rove down to local GOP pols — have trashed Christine O’Donnell without relent. They’ve made her name synonymous with embarrassing failure. The declamations are tossed off casually by TV’s alleged conservatives, usually as a cautionary tale. Among the right’s talking heads, Christine O’Donnell is invoked as a two-word epithet utilized to dismiss unfit and extreme Republican candidates, most often tea party upstarts. I object. Partly to correct the historical record, partly to defend Christine, partly to stymie a lingering and erroneous bit of conventional wisdom on the right, but mostly to tell Karl Rove that he can go sit on a volcano, I offer a sadly rare defense of Christine O’Donnell.
First of all, if you like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio and the scores of other conservatives who won competitive races in the 2010 tea party wave, you should thank your lucky stars for Christine O’Donnell. Whatever you think of the candidate herself, she took an unseemly barrage of media arrows that would have otherwise landed on other candidates. With every old clip Bill Maher released of Christine’s antics on “Politically Incorrect,” the legacy media spent hours ridiculing her. Across the networks, on October day after October day, liberal media elites relished, reveled in and replayed every O’Donnell gaffe and misstep. It was probably good for their ratings. And they may have thought that they were damaging the Republican brand. What they were actually doing was wasting hour upon hour of airtime ridiculing one candidate while ignoring political races across the country. Christine O’Donnell’s media flogging was a national shield for conservatives in close races. Witting or not, her sacrifice deserves recognition, if not gratitude.
Secondly, Christine O’Donnell didn’t lose. She won. She actually won a historic, against-all-odds, come-from-behind victory that conservatives across the land should be inspired by. Her opponent Mike Castle won his first elected office in Delaware in 1966. He served in Delaware’s State Assembly, the State House, as lieutenant governor, governor and as a congressman. In a political career that spanned five decades, Mike Castle retired with one loss: to Christine O’Donnell in the 2010 U.S. Senate primary.
Christine was a huge underdog. She had no money. Her opponent was a Delaware staple and an undefeated political colossus. Nearly every Republican office — national, state and local — had rolled out the red carpet for Mike Castle. And Christine was shunned by the GOP machine. So she took to the streets. She handed out flyers at grocery stores. She met with local bloggers. She spoke to rotary clubs, to tea parties, to small, informal groups gathered in living rooms and mom-and-pop shops across the state. She drove over 1,000 miles in a state that is 30 miles wide. She shook hands and kissed babies. And she won. She beat a goliath and sent one of the most liberal and entrenched elected Republicans in America into retirement. She took on the machine and won the Republican primary with a conservative message and retail politics.
But Delaware elected Chris Coons — not Christine O’Donnell — to the U.S. Senate in 2010.
Mike Castle was a leftist’s dream. He was a big-spending, George-Soros-funded, NARAL-approved politician who never met an earmark he didn’t like. Electing him as a Republican weakened the party. In every policy debate that matters, Mike Castle and others like him side with the left. For this, they are rewarded by the media and described as moderate.
In reality, moderates like Mike Castle are guarantors of conservative defeat. Political debate always ends in compromise. If Castle is “moderate,” then why should anyone entertain proposals from the far right? In every debate, the question is not whether conservatives win, but how much we lose. If America wants to vote itself socialist, that’s fine, but, at the moment, we’re not giving it a choice. With either party, we’re just taking baby steps toward statism and ruin.
And that’s my final point, and the only one that really matters: A Republican loss is not necessarily a loss for conservatism, nor is a win a win. And anyone who wanted to elect Mike Castle is not fighting for the conservative cause.
In the GOP’s highest echelons, there are leaders who have little interest in limited government or America’s founding principles. They’ve memorized our talking points, but only as a vehicle to power. They don’t want to trim government from our lives. They just want to be the ones pulling the levers in Washington. I’m not saying that Karl Rove dons a dark cape every night at 11:59 p.m., applies black lipstick, then sits in front of a fire, strokes a white cat and reads the Constitution backwards to summon the devil for Mephistophelean chats about bending millions to his will. I don’t know if he has a cat.
I’m sure that those who continue to invoke Christine O’Donnell ad nauseam on television are discouraging potential upstarts and perpetuating a dismal trend in the Republican ranks. Christine was not a great candidate, but she was something new, and newness should be encouraged in the GOP. It may be a good thing that she’s not a U.S. senator. But it is definitely a good thing that Mike Castle is not a U.S. senator. Christine O’Donnell did both the Republican Party and the conservative movement a service in 2010.
Yates Walker is a conservative activist and writer. He was Christine O’Donnell’s press secretary from July 2010 until August 2010. Before becoming involved in politics, he served honorably as a paratrooper and a medic in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.