“You think I’m licked. You all think I’m licked! Well I’m not licked! And I’m gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause… even if this room gets filled with lies like these.… Somebody will listen to me.”
— Jimmy Stewart as anti-Establishment Senator Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
The woman the Ruling Class spent so much time scorning in 2010 isn’t going quietly. As a matter of fact, there’s not the slightest sign she’s going — period.
And — among others — Texas Senator John Cornyn, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman, along with former Bush White House aide Karl Rove and the elites of the Delaware Republican Party, will decidedly not be happy to hear it.
On the other hand, sitting across from me last week on the sunlit patio of a local Starbucks, the first hot-off the presses copy of her newly published book Troublemaker in hand, a distinctly upbeat and enthusiastic Christine O’Donnell looked and sounded pretty sunny herself.
With considerable justification.
The subjects she talked about with such passion in last year’s campaign season are today the center of Washington politics. An irony considering Ms. O’Donnell was derided not only by elitist Delaware Democrats but Ruling Class elites of both the Delaware Republican Party and, amazingly in a movement that celebrates such anti-liberal Establishment stars from Buckley to Reagan to Fox and talk radio, some conservatives. In the latter case, to be fair, there were conservatives who took umbrage at an O’Donnell lawsuit against the conservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The issue involved was gender discrimination, and was dropped by O’Donnell in January 2008. But in fact this was decidedly not the driving issue surrounding her campaign against Castle. The issue quickly clarified along the lines of a modern “Davida” against the Establishment “Goliath” Castle. O’Donnell, in spite of being the GOP Senate nominee against Biden in 2008 and an unsuccessful primary candidate in 2006, was pilloried by elites in extraordinary fashion that instantly rallied supporters to her side. Castle, his record as a liberal along with the larger issue of exactly where his kind of thinking was leading the country, became the physical embodiment of precisely how and why so many saw the country as careening off the tracks. And prominent in the Castle camp O’Donnell quite specifically includes Cornyn, Rove, and the functionaries of the Delaware State Republican Party. All of whom, she says, continued to undermine her campaign once nominated — infuriating Tea Party conservatives all across the country.
O’Donnell had reason to be upbeat the other day in our talk. Her book, Troublemaker: Let’s Do What It Takes To Make America Great Again, will be released on August 16.
The book comes out in the wake of yesterday’s 635-point drop in the stock market, which in turns comes on the heels of what presidential critics quickly termed the “Obama Downgrade” — the historic first-ever downgrading of America’s credit rating. Which in turn comes on the heels of the tumultuous debate over whether to raise the debt ceiling. A debate in which Tea Party conservatives like O’Donnell insisted the “compromise” was not enough to save Americans from, well, downgrades and stock market plunges. Finally, perhaps not so coincidentally, the book debuts in the middle of the much larger divide over whether America will become a European-style “social justice” state where well-heeled, tax-payer financed government bureaucrats issue fiats on all manner of class-warfare redistributive schemes — schemes that have already resulted in what Rush Limbaugh is calling the “Barackalypse.” And that was before the stock market wipeout.
O’Donnell, of course, is famous precisely because she was an early and emphatic supporter of Tea Party-style opposition to the left-wing politics that are fueling what House Majority Leader Eric Cantor recently described to the Wall Street Journal as a divide between “two different world views.”
A considerable part of the controversy that swirled around O’Donnell last fall, thinly disguised in furious and frequently snotty elitist allegations (in a tone that curiously seems to have found its way into the current criticisms of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin — hmmmmm) was in reality precisely this same debate.
Yet perhaps because she is a conservative woman, like the much derided Palin, Bachmann, and Nevada’s Sharron Angle, O’Donnell became a veritable ground zero for bizarre, off-the-wall allegations (She dated a guy in high school who believed in witchcraft! She opposed masturbation! She had trouble paying the IRS!) that were presented as immediately disqualifying for a seat in the United States Senate.
This at a point in history where the record shows that factual truths about allegations against male politicians in federal office were just one big no-never-mind. This Grand Canyon-sized double-standard was noted here last year as O’Donnell’s campaign against GOP Establishment favorite Congressman Mike Castle was taking off, and O’Donnell cites my column in her book. But to update and sharpen (surely you won’t see this list — my own, not O’Donnell’s — in a New York Times review of O’Donnell’s book. Then again, chances are excellent you will never see a review of O’Donnell’s book in the New York Times to begin with unless there is a felt need to disparage her yet again), these Establishment men who have been given all manner of behavioral passes would include:
• Senator Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick (in which the very much incumbent senator drove a car off a bridge, a woman drowned and he fled the scene of the accident).
• Senator John McCain’s Keating Five (in which the very much incumbent senator was accused of influencing a federal regulator on behalf of a political contributor).
• Senator Joe Biden’s plagiarism (in which the very much incumbent senator was proved to have routinely lifted the words of everyone from a would-be British prime minister to a would-be U.S. president, a practice he was also proved to have followed as a law student).
• Senator Barack Obama’s shady Rezko real estate dealings (in which the very much incumbent senator was shown to have benefitted in a personal real estate deal from federal target Tony Rezko).
• President Bill Clinton’s involvement as both president, governor and attorney general of Arkansas in allegations of sexual harassment and rape.
All the latter allegations made against these men were said to have involved their alleged respective deeds as sitting public officials. Sitting U.S. Senators or a President, Governor and state attorney general. Not, as with O’Donnell, an innocuous and laughable stint as some high school kid on a wacky date with what we would call today a Harry Potter wannabe. A few months removed from this bizarre hurricane, O’Donnell laughs easily at the outright absurdity of the situation.
Yet in 2010 O’Donnell was the nut; these guys mentioned above — facing serious allegations revolving around everything from the drowning death of a young girl to influence peddling to plagiarism to shady real estate dealings to sexual harassment and rape — skated (and skate) along blissfully as Mr. Mainstream Responsible Respectable. They are so Responsible Respectable they are revered by the Establishment enough to be seen as the “Lion of the Senate” (Kennedy), made the 2008 GOP presidential nominee (McCain — and for the record, McCain may have made his share of mistakes but a dishonest man he is not), the vice president of the United States (Biden) and two presidents of the United States (Obama and Clinton).
The problem for Christine O’Donnell, you see, was that O’Donnell dated that Harry Potter wannabe in high school. That’s what disqualified her from being a United States Senator.
THE REAL POINT HERE, as more and more Americans get with every passing day, is that this is precisely the game played with non-Establishment politicians right from the get-go. A viewing of the 1939 classic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington starring Jimmy Stewart — this scene from the film gets to the guts of O’Donnell’s 2010 race and then some with the exception that in the end Mr. Smith wins and O’Donnell loses — says only in cinematic fashion what O’Donnell has lived in real life.
But did O’Donnell and the cause she championed really lose? After all, while O’Donnell lost this round, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Pat Toomey, Rand Paul and others won their Senate races. Palin and Bachmann are very much a force in the presidential race, Bachmann as a candidate, Palin yet to decide.
Her fans clearly don’t think O’Donnell is a loser. One Vietnam veteran bluntly encouraged her by saying: “Do not give up, Christine O’Donnell. Let them spit in your face, but do not give up.… We had to fight in a war, but your struggle is here.”
So just what does O’Donnell discuss about that struggle in this book, anyway? What is she so pleased with as she sits across the table from me the other day? The first hot-off-the-presses copy of Troublemaker in her hand, she is decidedly not shy.
The Delaware Republican Party, in O’Donnell’s telling, is filled with politically treacherous social wannabe’s whose biggest concern is being the in-crowd as opposed to actually winning elections on conservative principle, a severe problem that has alienated considerable numbers of the party’s rank and file. Once led by classy state and national party giants like the conservative Governor Pete Du Pont and the late Senator William Roth — the latter author of the Roth IRA (Individual Retirement Account) and the second half of the legendary Kemp-Roth tax cuts that were the legislative backbone of Reaganomics — the party is now seemingly in the hands of intellectual and political pygmies whose chief ambition is to be in the right social and political circles. Faced with the job of running a candidate against state attorney general Beau Biden — the now-vice president’s son — the GOP simply passed altogether. As it did in writing a party platform reflecting the party’s principles — similarly refusing outright to do this basic simple task of party politics. In 2006 the Delaware GOP nominated a Senate candidate against Democratic Senator Tom Carper — a “Republican” who two years later was a state coordinator — for the Obama campaign!
Nominated by the state GOP to run against then-Senator Joe Biden in 2008 — a year in which Biden ran for both re-election to a seventh Senate term and as Barack Obama’s vice-presidential running mate — O’Donnell reports that the “state GOP didn’t lift a finger to help” their own nominee. A promised party fundraising letter for O’Donnell turned up in bundles — in a state GOP headquarters closet. After the election.
Interestingly, O’Donnell had no primary challenger that year — and certainly GOP Congressman and ex-Governor Castle could easily have given her one. But as with declining a Senate run two years earlier against the Democrat Carper, Castle, tellingly, was clearly not interested in doing battle over principle if it would make him a two-time loser. So he sat on the sidelines.
Or did he? O’Donnell writes that one prominent O’Donnell supporter preparing a fundraiser for the GOP Senate nominee
reported that he’d been visited personally by Senator Biden and Representative Mike Castle, our Republican congressman (and former two-term governor). Their message was clear: Don’t have this fundraiser. One supporter was told in no uncertain terms that there were consequences to going against Biden and Castle.”
It is precisely this kind of Insider buddy-buddy system that had given Castle such an odious reputation with party rank-and-file members as well the blossoming Tea Party movement. A reputation that would catch up to him in 2010. On top of which was Castle’s liberalism in compiling a House record supporting liberal or Democratic policies at least 50 per cent of the time.
In spite of her 2008 defeat, O’Donnell’s willingness to challenge the Biden machine produced a record for the GOP — she won 36% of the vote against Biden’s 64%. Something that should have signaled a storm warning ahead for Castle as he sought to succeed to Biden’s now-vacated seat in 2010 — after he was apparently actively working behind the scenes with Biden to defeat O’Donnell, his own party’s nominee, in 2008.
It should also have served as a flashing caution light to the NRSC’s Senator Cornyn. It didn’t.
Cornyn was spending 2010 showing himself to be perhaps the most inept chairman in the committee’s history. Instead of sticking to his promise not to involve himself in the Florida Senate GOP primary between Governor Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio, Cornyn jumped right into the middle of the fight by endorsing — Crist the liberal. The same Charlie Crist who would eventually, à la Arlen Specter against Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, bolt the party. Rubio, needless to say, won. Over in Kentucky, Cornyn went with the GOP Establishment candidate Trey Grayson over Rand Paul — the latter clobbering the Establishment Grayson.
By the time it came to Delaware, Cornyn, burned repeatedly, still hadn’t figured out that the revolt against Obama and those styled as “RINOs” (Republicans In Name Only) did not bode well for Castle. O’Donnell charges in her book that Cornyn was not only supporting Castle, but allowing his own staff — in this case NRSC legal counsel Michael Toner (whom she also describes as Karl Rove’s “good buddy”) — to file a bogus complaint against O’Donnell’s campaign and the Tea Party Express. An action opening an official arm of the national GOP to charges of legal harassment against a movement — the Tea Party — that was bringing in all manner of votes for GOP candidates. The complaint was finally dismissed. Nine months after election day.
Former Governor Palin would have none of this nonsense. While O’Donnell was campaigning in a Delaware diner she received a text message telling her that Palin had just gone on Sean Hannity’s radio show to endorse her. So “pumped” was O’Donnell at the unexpected news that she held out her cell phone for other’s to see saying: “Look at that! Governor Palin just endorsed me.” And with that, as word shot through the crowded diner in the middle of the lunch rush, diners stood up clapping, cheering and whistling, shouting “You go, girl!”
After O’Donnell defeated Castle the GOP Establishment rallied — to itself. Castle, she says, “wasn’t the most gracious loser.” An understatement. The man who blithely told attendees at a GOP event during the primary that it was important to come together after the results were in couldn’t choke down an all-too apparent sense of entitlement at losing and simply refused to call O’Donnell for the traditional election night phone call from loser to winner. Sniffed Castle to Fox’s Carl Cameron in what he clearly thought a swipe: “She’s got no money; she’s never held office… all she has is her principles.”
Clearly Castle had his principles too, and they received sympathetic attention. O’Donnell notes that while Castle couldn’t manage the traditional election night concession call, he was “able to handle incoming calls, because in the wake of his defeat he heard personally from both President Obama and Vice President Biden.” O’Donnell asks: “All of this begged the obvious question: Why would President Obama take the time to place a call like that to a Republican U.S. Senate candidate like Mike Castle?” Why, indeed.
To their everlasting credit, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney called to congratulate her, as did Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint. Former Governor DuPont made a classy point of calling on her at her headquarters after the primary. But Castle? Not until days later was a tepid phone call received.
KARL ROVE DID NOT cover himself with any glory in all of this, either. O’Donnell notes that after actively trying to convince Delaware Tea Partiers not to support O’Donnell because it was the liberal Castle’s “turn” to run, he appeared on Sean Hannity’s television show after O’Donnell was declared the victor to attack her some more. Says O’Donnell pointedly, noting that Rove had predicted her defeat by Castle and repeatedly made false charges about a tax lien on her house and her not paying taxes (even after she supplied Rove a canceled check cashed by the IRS): “He was like a Chihuahua who wouldn’t let go.” After all the unfair charges against Rove in the Valerie Plame affair, it astounds that Rove would behave in this fashion. But O’Donnell believes she knows why:
Say what you will about Karl Rove, but he’s no conservative, not in my book. As the architect of George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, he deserves a nod for returning the White House to the Republican column, but from where I sat he was the chief RINO in the Bush administration….
And after Rove’s prediction of her defeat by Castle falls flat, O’Donnell adds:
The curtain had been pulled back, and the whole world could see Karl Rove for what he was, a bandwagon pundit who liked to take credit where it was hardly due and place blame where it was hardly deserved. To borrow a phrase, there wasn’t a whole lot of there there when it came to Karl Rove, and the American people were finding that out. He had a book out at the time called Courage and Consequence, and in one of my (post-primary election) interviews I pointed out that he had a fistful of neither. I said, “The man doesn’t have the courage to face the consequences when an outsider conservative beats his insider liberal.”
Yet the big story that post-primary morning, O’Donnell recalls, was “the news out of Washington that the NRSC would not get behind us in the general election.” O’Donnell writes that the message she received from the national GOP Establishment — from Cornyn — “was that we were on our own.” A clear-minded Senator DeMint brought up the subject when he called: “You’re not alone in this. We’re gonna make sure you get the funding you need.” O’Donnell writes that DeMint’s reassuring words left her grateful.
O’Donnell doesn’t mention it in her book, but one source tells me that a much discussed meeting between Cornyn and O’Donnell later in the fall campaign ended up with Cornyn abruptly walking out on her.
But O’Donnell had support from elsewhere.
All through the primary talk radio’s Mark Levin and Sean Hannity had been talking up her challenge to the liberal Castle. In typical Levin style, the sharp-eyed talk radio host had discovered Castle was one of only two GOP votes in the House for a piece of free speech-chilling legislation liberal supporters had disingenuously called the “Disclose Act.” O’Donnell had quickly pounced on it as but the latest example of Castle’s left-leaning tendencies, calling it the “Establishment Protection Clause.” Levin promptly called O’Donnell to discuss on-air, catching her as she was driving back to her headquarters from a campaign event. In the world of modern communications, O’Donnell’s campaign aide pulled the speeding car to a halt on the side of the road and the candidate went live on Levin’s show to discuss Castle’s vote. Call over, the ride resumed — and on returning to her headquarters minutes later was stunned to learn that as a result of the Levin interview minutes earlier the campaign was already awash in more than $12,000 in donations from Levin listeners across the country.
It was a telling moment in more ways than one. Hannity had taken considerable heat for supporting her, refusing to buckle to the backstage drumbeat to just give up the ghost and drop her conservative candidacy. When Rush Limbaugh learned of the NRSC wobblies, O’Donnell writes, Rush “suggested to his listeners that if they each sent a dollar to my campaign, we’d have enough money to do without any NRSC funding — and Rush’s devoted listeners took him at his word.” Two days later the O’Donnell campaign had banked over $2 million.
THERE ARE OTHER JUICY STORIES in this book, which is a great personal and political tale. (Yes, the “I am not a witch” TV commercial episode is covered.) Troublemaker is a real-life Davida and Goliath story. Perhaps tellingly when it comes to dealing with liberal elites is the classic debate story in which her Democratic opponent, now Senator Chris Coons, illustrates a mind-bending ignorance of the Constitution. Coons couldn’t name the five freedoms protected by the First Amendment and insisted the phrase “separation of church and state” was included in the Constitution. It isn’t — as O’Donnell well knew and stated, only to be shouted down by an audience of — get this — law students! Later, at another diner for a momentary break, O’Donnell overhears a sneering liberal student — unaware of her nearby presence — recount that she was too stupid to know that the phrase “separation of church and state” was in the Constitution. It took her staff to keep her from walking over to the kid’s table and thrusting her handy pocket Constitution in front of him with a demand that he find the phrase. Too bad.
It’s all too trite to simply say that Christine O’Donnell was smeared and unfairly treated, even if true, which it is. If Ralph Waldo Emerson’s admonition in his essay Self-Reliance is on the mark:
A sturdy lad….who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not “studying a profession,” for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances…”
…then Christine O’Donnell is an exceptionally bright and accomplished woman.
One of six kids from a working class Irish-Italian American family, as she details in Troublemaker she has had nothing in life handed to her. Everything, from her education to professional achievements has come at the price of exceptionally hard work. Yet in the style of Emerson’s admonition she has been a nanny, cleaned bathroom floors to survive (including, incredibly, after losing her second Senate run) and learned instinctively how to calm her Alzheimer’s- besieged grandmother by singing a favorite hymn.
She has worked in marketing, owned a house and had to give up a house. She has been subjected to clearly politically inspired IRS audits. And she has paid her taxes and an expensive college tuition. She has studied at Oxford, is versed in the theology of her Catholic faith, writes about everything from papal encyclicals (Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae on human dignity and personhood is a favorite) to socialism in France and property rights as a fundamental of economic freedom. Her early pro-life activism came out of long discussions she had with a childhood friend — and it was O’Donnell who was supporting the pro-abortion position. A position she abandoned in horror after reading up on the subject in detail.
She has traveled in the Middle East, by chance coming upon a young Jordanian woman who, right in front of O’Donnell, “had come within a half step of being killed for shaming her family and her village” for the “crime” of stepping a foot in a spring where O’Donnell and other male and female American tourists were cooling off together. Quickly surrounded and dragged away by angry male relatives shouting in Arabic, a shaken O’Donnell was informed by her guide that had the girl merely touched the water she would have been killed in an Islamic “honor killing.” O’Donnell was interviewed and seriously considered as a television co-host by Barbara Walters for Walters’ famous show The View (O’Donnell lost out to Lucy Ling), was hired by Mel Gibson’s production company to help with the marketing of Gibson’s blockbuster film The Passion of the Christ, and defeated a sitting congressman and former governor for a nomination to the United States Senate.
This book will, in typical O’Donnell style, make waves. After yesterday’s 635 point drop in the stock market the idea of listening to the Mike Castles of the world will, for some, finally seem as nutty as it seemed to O’Donnell and so many others whose economic status was apparently blinding them to the common sense of their economic lessers.
But as her Italian Grandmother Chillano impressed on the young Christine:
“Class is about character, not money. Doing the right thing and treating others with respect is not something you can buy.”
Grandmom Chillano would love this book.
And she would be very proud of her granddaughter.
She should be.
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