How Christine O'Donnell Went from Tea Party Favorite to Outcast

Before she lost her Senate race, criticizing the GOP candidate was considered tea party heresy. Now she's barely permitted to speak at rallies.

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In the tea party, one day you're in, and the next you're out:

Former U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell will not speak at a tea party event featuring former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in Indianola, Iowa, this weekend, an organizer told Washington Wire. "I made a mistake," said Ken Crow, president of Tea Party of America. "I assumed there was an open slot and there wasn't."Monday night, Mr. Crow told Washington Wire that Ms. O'Donnell would appear.

Tea Party of America's cofounder, Charlie Gruschow, said the group withdrew Ms. O'Donnell's after receiving numerous "emails from a lot of tea party folks that were very disappointed that she would be speaking."

And then? You're in again:

Former Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell will speak at a tea party rally Saturday in Iowa after organizers Tuesday night reversed themselves again and re-invited her, CNN has learned.

What do I take from all the drama?

Validation.

When O'Donnell emerged as a Delaware Senate candidate, a lot of people, myself included, voiced doubts about her fitness for office, and suspected that permitting her to be a spokesperson would be more trouble than it was worth. But she was embraced by the grassroots. They boosted her to a primary victory over a moderate Republican. Folks who criticized her were labeled turncoat RINOs (for critics on the right) or liberal elitists (for critics on the left).

O'Donnell ultimately lost the general election by 17 points. 

Before that ballot box debacle, here's what Rush Limbaugh said:

Do you remember after Christine O'Donnell -- even before she won the primary, but even afterwards -- all the erudite elites on our side who were wringing their hands together? "Oh, no! Oh, no! There goes the Republican majority, Christine O'Donnell. We had to have Mike Castle. We had to have Mike Castle. We had to have a RINO."

And then Mike Murphy, Georgetown political consultant said, "Okay! Okay, you guys," speaking to people like me and you, "You know how to win elections. You go in there and you move to Delaware. You run her campaign. Sarah Palin, you know how to do this, you go in there run her campaign."  All right. So she had her first debate last night.  I'm hearing this for the first time.  I didn't watch the show.  I'm impressed.  I think this is good.  I think she's quite good, what I've heard so far.

Here's Mark Levin:

I've noticed that Christine O'Donnell is under vicious assault today. You can't go on the Internet without her being attacked for her fianance, for her rent payments, for a lawsuit that she brought. And it's not just the liberal nut jobs. It's some of the others over there at The Weekly Standard, there's a link at Hot Air and so forth. I'm all for reporting the news but obviously people wth grudges and opposition research is being spread virally because it all seems to be happening today. Let me put this in perspective for you... It is time that the self-appointed commentators who think they represent somebody or some perspective understand that this isn't 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, it's 2010, we're in perilous times, and these are crucial elections... Who is behind all this? ...She's a regular human being. So we're to pick her to pieces?

Lara Ingraham was on the same page:

Maybe she doesn't have the pedigree that Charles Krauthammer and comapny have. But guess what she did? She won. Okay? People are tired of the club in Washington. 'Well she doesn't have that background that we think is so critical in today's politics.' This so called pragmatic argument, 'Well she can't win so we had to support Mike Castle," that just doesn't hold any water anymore." ... The time for the establishment is over. It's the people's time. That means were going to have candidates that don't have the perfect pedigree. They might have an odd backstory. They might be self financed... But the time for the old establishment is over.

...And you can kind of look down your nose at me making this case. You can keep kind of sneering. Guess what. That only makes you less relevant. That only makes you look like a snob... Not every candidate is going to be perfect. Not every candidate is going to have this perfect background and resume. Maybe not every candidate made the right financial decisions in his or her life. ...Republicans can't do this to their own people... Just because every candidate didn't go to Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Brown, Dartouth, or any other top school, and doesn't go to the right parties, and doesn't have the right viewpoints -- maybe doesn't speak in terms as eloquent as you speak, does not mean that this woman would not be terrific in the U.S. Senate. If she gets more people involved in politics, if she gets younger people, women, pro-life people, social conservatives, and yeah, fiscal conservatives, tea party types, to all rally around her, guess what? We could transform Delaware.

Ingraham laid on the "tea party as victims" schtick particularly thick:

Are we still the ugly stepchildren? The tea partiers are the ugly step children, the social conservatives are the ugly step children, you know a lot of these Republican elites didn't much like us in the first place. They found us icky. We're the undesirables, the unwashed... we're not going to tolerate being locked in the basement so that you guys can run the show. You almost ran it into the ground last time.

As it turns out, O'Donnell didn't just lose either. She proved so erratic in her press appearances, unpopular, and bereft of political upside that tea partiers now write angry letters when she is invited to speak at their events! Her critics were right. And her defenders, who insisted that only a RINO or an elitist would criticize her -- that their critiques were snobbery, not substance -- were wrong.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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