Christine O'Donnell's GOP Senate primary upset over Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware last week has the media buzzing about how the tea party movement is overthrowing the established order of things—at least for Republicans. But while O'Donnell may be labeled as a "tea party" candidate, the movement is far from a monolith, and there are some in its ranks who aren't all that thrilled to be associated with her.
Andrew Ian Dodge is the Maine state coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest tea party umbrella groups. TPP doesn't endorse candidates, but that hasn't stopped Dodge from expressing his own opinon about O'Donnell. He thinks she's a bit of a nutter. "Everything I've seen about her has made me laugh my ass off," he says. "What the hell do you say? First you have Alvin Green, and now you have her." His concern is that if she loses in the general election to Democrat Chris Coons, the defeat will be widely regarded as a reflection on the tea party movement—and he doesn't want that.
Dodge recognizes that he's somewhat at odds with many of his fellow tea partiers, who are enthused about O'Donnell. (She raised over $1 million the day after her primary win.) He says that when he voices objections to O'Donnell's candidacy, fellow tea partiers suggest that he's parroting a mainstream media that is out to sabotage her campaign. He responds by saying, "There's video. There's video of her saying masturbation leads to AIDS." (O'Donnell is on record attacking masturbation as sinful, decrying the costs of AIDS prevention and research, and criticizing the "lifestyle which brings about this disease.")
Dodge also takes issue with O'Donnell's status as an "outsider." He explains: "Alvin Green is an outsider. [Carl] Paladino, who has never run for anything, is an outsider." O'Donnell has run four times for national office and lost. "She's not an outsider," he says. "She's a loser." Dodge notes that while it hasn't made national headlines, there is a reasonable and healthy discussion inside the tea party movement about whether O'Donnell deserves national support.
So far, though, the public tea party debate concerning O'Donnell seems to focus on whether the GOP ought to support her campaign full-throttle and whether she can win. On the TPP Facebook page, there are hundreds of comments responding to a posted link from TownHall.com about Karl Rove's attack on O'Donnell. They reflect deep anger at the GOP establishment for its assault on O'Donnell. Many of the commenters express support and call on Republican officials to give her a chance. Florida resident Daniel A. Burnham, though, counters the O'Donnell lovefest by observing:
If she is elected how soon can we start burning books and witches? Do you think she will pass a law making nonabstinance in private? If she is going to have a say in spending billions of our dollars do you think she will do better managing...our finances than her own? This is also a serious question; does she think dinosaurs are more than 6,000 years old? Not one thing is an invalid question. But of course no one will answer them. (at least intelligently)
As much as tea partiers outside of Delaware seem to have rallied to O'Donnell's campaign, there's a question of how much they really know about her. Robin Stublen, a tea party activist in Punta Gorda, Florida, who is fairly well-informed about politics, was unaware of some of O'Donnell's more controversial comments, her financial problems, or the issues she's had keeping her staff. But he says that as a Florida resident, it really doesn't matter what he thinks: "It's up to those people in Delaware." Stublen assumes that O'Donnell will continue to receive significant tea party support even if the movements' activists learn more about her background: "We'd rather have our nuts than the establishment Republican Party's. Everyone supports her because she's just not one of them."
Still, O'Donnell hasn't yet been embraced by FreedomWorks, the powerhouse advocacy group headed by former House Minority Leader Dick Armey that's been. dubbed Tea Party HQ. FreedomWorks and its PAC endorsed tea party favorites Mike Lee in Utah and Sharron Angle in her race in Nevada against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But the group declined to back O'Donnell in the primary, largely because of concerns over her electability. Armey has been leery of social conservatives like O'Donnell, who is far more Christian Coalition than tea party. In fact, he has spent the past few years bashing social conservatives for trying to use government to impose their moral agenda on the rest of the country. Last Tuesday, on Alan Colmes' radio show, he said:
When the social conservatives and the economic conservatives work well together is when they work with a common resistance to the growth of the power of the state. And what happened was there was a small cadre of very strongly assertive people on the social issues side that were saying "let's expand the power of the state" in order to impose our values on the community.
And you do not ... my point is very simple: you live a righteous life, you're an encouragement to other people; [but] use the state to impose it and you're a tyrant.
Coming as she does from the front lines of the culture wars, where she fought abortion, homosexuality—and of course, wanking—O'Donnell doesn't seem like Armey's kind of candidate, tea party or not. What Armey and FreedomWorks do about O'Donnell—now that she's won the primary and become a tea party star—will be a telling indicator of whether the tea party and the religious right are entering a marriage of convenience.