Reaping what they sowed

     

    In the end, the tea-partiers of Delaware didn’t care a whit that Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell was a tax deadbeat; that she lied about being a college graduate when, in fact, she wasn’t;
    that she lied about studying for a master’s degree when, in fact, she wasn’t; that she used campaign donations to pay her condo rent and personal expenses; that she insisted with zero evidence that her enemies were literally lurking in the bushes; that her former campaign manager called her “a complete fraud”; and that (oh yeah, maybe this should be important) she has accrued zero experience in the realm of actual governance.

    Last night, the Republican primary electorate decided that none of those trifling details were important. What mattered, to the conservatives who dominated the balloting, was that O’Donnell was the perfect vehicle for their inchoate – and potentially self-destructive – anger.

    She was the “outsider” with the Palin imprimatur. Her opponent in the Senate primary, Mike Castle, was the “insider.” Granted, he’s a nine-term congressman and former governor who is widely respected for being a smart and classy guy, and, granted, he would’ve been a lock to win the November race and thus switch Joe Biden’s old seat to the Republican side of the aisle (and perhaps tilt the Senate to GOP control) – but those nuances didn’t resonate with conservatives who were determined to “send a message” and bask in their political naivete.

    And so what we have here is the most vivid national example (thus far, anyway) of the tea-party mentality run amok.

    The Republican party, which has sought to sow these grassroots passions, may now be reaping the whirlwind. Losing a slam-dunk Senate election in Delaware was not supposed to be part of the bargain – but that’s what can happen when you nominate somebody who, on the gravitas meter, makes Sarah Palin look like Margaret Thatcher.

    Does O’Donnell have any hopes of actually defeating Democrat Chris Coons in November? Here’s a prediction, offered on Fox News last night by none other than Karl Rove: “This is not a race we’re going to be able to win.”

    In other words, O’Donnell is so bad that not even Rove will bother to spin her otherwise. He called the primary results “inexplicable,” given the fact that she has said “a lot of nutty things…that don’t add up.” Then he basically provided the video clip that Democrats would be wise to post in every TV ad:

    “It does conservatives little good to support candidates who, at the end of the day, while they may be conservative in their public statements, do not evince the characteristics of rectitude, truthfulness, sincerity, and character that voters are looking for.”

    (By the way, some right-wing commentators are now attacking Rove for his remarks, calling him “disgraceful” and “effete.” Let us pause to marvel at this development: not even Karl Rove is sufficiently conservative anymore. The next thing we know, they’ll be assailing him as “French.”)

    Anyway, on primary night, 30,561 Delaware conservatives gave short shrift to those crucial character traits, or convinced themselves that O’Donnell possessed those traits in contravention of the facts. Her big problem, however, is that Delaware is home to  621,746 registered voters – 438, 950 of whom are registered Democrats or independents. They were barred from voting in last night’s GOP primary. They’ll get their chance in November. Odds are, they won’t be charmed by O’Donnell’s past. And I’m not even talking about the IRS tax lien, the threats of foreclosure, and the lies about her college record.

    For instance, the social conservatives and tea-partiers didn’t much care about O’Donnell’s ’90s crusade against the “lust” of masturbation; or the fact that, as the leader of a group known as Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth (SALT), she liked to confront people at rock concerts and inform them that they were destined to reside for eternity in a very hot subterranean climate; or the fact that she supported the “ex-gay” movement, which believes that gay people can be reformed. But these items will matter more to a largely Democratic and swing electorate.

    I also confess to being fascinated by her 1998 appearance on Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect show. She declared that, as leader of SALT and as a person of faith, she would never lie: “A lie or an exaggeration is disrespect for whoever you are lying to…It’s not respecting reality…There is never a time to lie…You never have to practice deception.” But when asked whether she, as a hypothetical World War II citizen, would have lied to the Nazis in order to protect Jews in hiding, she dodged: “In that situation, God would provide a way to do the right thing.”

    Perhaps, this autumn, she will tell swing voters that she can see God from her condo window. The bottom line: Christine O’Donnell is what happens when tea-party purists go too far in expressing their gut contempt for governance. And the GOP is stuck with them.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.