The Delaware Senate race is like a game of Texas Hold-em that started slow, with boring cards on the table, and an obvious winner smirking over his hole cards.  A few rounds later, everyone is frantically throwing chips onto a huge pile and waiting for the last card to be dealt.  The early favorite folded early, but now he’s circling the table with crumpled bills clutched in a sweaty hand, muttering that he’s “very unhappy with things that happened” early in the game.

There are far more than two players in this game.  The Tea Party has embraced Christine O’Donnell as a brave trooper fighting horrendous odds.  Conservative stalwarts like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin are weary of settling for weak-willed establishment candidates who can’t wait to sell out their base, and reach a profitable understanding with statist ideology.

Meanwhile, elements of the GOP establishment are bizarrely obsessed with destroying her.  The National Republican Senatorial Committee announced it wouldn’t spend a dime to help her, within moments of her primary victory over Mike Castle, but changed its mind after a night of outrage from Republican voters.  Castle has refused to endorse her, and is openly contemplating a write-in challenge.  Republican sages like Karl Rove launch daily assaults against O’Donnell, behaving as if she somehow stole her nomination.  As Lori Ziganto notes, various forces have constructed a sexism controversy around her… some eager to beat the Democrats with their own gender politics cudgel, others belittling O’Donnell for whining she hasn’t actually indulged in.  I suspect some lazy observers are trotting out this narrative just because O’Donnell is good-looking.

In the interests of full disclosure, I sized up the Delaware race and reluctantly concluded it was strategically wise to support Castle, who had a much better chance of taking the seat, and possibly delivering a Republican Senate.  I made this recommendation to play the odds, not predict the future.  Now that O’Donnell is the nominee, I support her candidacy without hesitation.  I dearly hope Senator O’Donnell and I can meet up in Hogsmeade someday, and have a laugh about my lack of faith over a butterbeer.

Too many of the pundits who weighed in against her candidacy have interests that trump the success of the Republican Party, or indeed the country.  Opposing her during primary season was fair enough – in fact, it was vital.  Primaries are the season for testing and measuring candidates.  Hitting them hard is the only way to judge their strength… but once the primary is over, you stop hitting them. No one is obliged to fake enthusiasm for a candidate they dislike, but actively sabotaging the Republican candidate, with the stakes as high as they are, is madness. The Democrat Party needs no reinforcements to inflict more damage on America.  Republicans in Delaware would be wise to ask if letting go of a few odd comments from O’Donnell’s past is a fair price to pay, if it means keeping the rest of the state from ending up like New Castle County.  For that matter, I’d advise Delaware Democrats and independents to ask themselves the same question.

Some of the animosity toward O’Donnell is blowback from the rather… fiery enthusiasm her supporters displayed in the last days of the primary.  Some flows from a desire to teach Tea Party insurgents a lesson about backing long-shot candidates in the name of ideological purity.  To this group, I would say that we don’t have time for such lessons.  The next two elections are far too critical to jeopardize any seat, in service to an argument about who we should nominate in 2014.

Like other Tea Party favorites, O’Donnell earns the enmity of an establishment that wants its turn piloting the statist machinery we aim to dismantle.  They think the reason America is headed for a cliff is that our current President is stomping on the gas pedal, but he can’t quite reach the steering wheel.  They have cynically concluded that real change is impossible, and the rusted machinery of the New Deal is eternal.  Flights of fancy about little girls in Minuteman costumes are a distraction from serious business, like negotiating small reductions in the rate of spending increases.  Better to have a sensible Democrat holding the seat from Delaware, until a marginally more sensible establishment Republican with the proper credentials can be advanced in a few years.

Some of the most persistent O’Donnell critics are pundits who see their influence and reputation on the line.  They announced with absolute certainty that she cannot win this race, and by hook or crook, they’re going to make that prediction come true. I’d be delighted if events prove I was wrong about O’Donnell in the primary… but there are Republican commentators who hope Senator Chris Coons will save them from being wrong about her in the general election.  When a fortune teller predicts you’ll die by fire, check behind his back to see if he’s holding a gasoline can and some flares.

Things are still looking pretty grim for Christine O’Donnell.  Sniping at her now will cripple her chances with independent voters, who often make up their minds right before the election, no matter what they tell pollsters several weeks out.  They tend to be heavily influenced by the prevailing media narrative, so making it more toxic will do real damage to her prospects.

No matter what you thought about O’Donnell during the primary season, there’s no doubt the conservative cause would benefit tremendously from seeing her rake in the chips from the high-stakes Delaware game on Election Day.  The Senate certainly doesn’t need another tired old lefty who pretends to be a moderate for a few months every six years.

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