It’s not quite an endorsement in the literal sense, but when someone donates out of her own pocket to a candidate’s campaign and then defends him in the media, there’s not much nuance in that position.  Christine O’Donnell lashed out at conservative critics of Mitt Romney after making a $250 donation to his campaign, and told ABC News that she might decide to max out her personal contribution.  As for her endorsement, O’Donnell says she’s “70 percent” behind Romney at the moment:

Christine O’Donnell, the former Republican Senate candidate and a Tea Party favorite during the 2010 election, said in an exclusive interview with ABC News that she has not only given money to presidential candidate Mitt Romney but also says she doesn’t think he is getting a “getting a fair shake” from those within her own movement. …

“It’s politics of personal destruction aimed at our own and it’s got to stop,” she added. “Right now a lawn gnome could beat Obama in 2012, so, yes, we can be picky, but not nasty or malicious. If we don’t stop the Republican cannibalism we’re simply turning this election over to the Democrats, who certainly don’t deserve it.”

“We should learn a lesson from what happened in my race last year. I was consistently beating my democratic opponent in the pre-primary head to head match up and then the Republican Establishment launched their shameless attack and changed all that,” said O’Donnell. “As the saying goes, a lie runs around the world while the truth is still lacing up its shoes.”

Well, I’m not sure that the two situations are entirely analogous.  First, Romney himself hasn’t exactly been a wallflower when it comes to personal attacks in this race, with his anti-Perry ad that strongly suggested that his rival was intellectually addled, and the “Career Politician” website that’s more than a little ironic from someone who has spent the last five years running for President.  No one’s calling Romney a “witch,” either, although O’Donnell can surely point to attacks on Romney’s Mormon faith from some evangelicals as firmer grounds for her argument.

Nor are most of the attacks personal in nature.  Tea Party conservatives have good reason to question Romney’s imposition of a mandate in Massachusetts when the top priority for them is the elimination of ObamaCare, especially given the rapid cost increases in health insurance that followed Romney’s program in the state.  Partnering on environmental regulation with people like John Holdren and appointing Douglas Foy to his Cabinet are entirely rational reasons to question Romney’s commitment to domestic energy production and private-property rights, as well as just plain judgment.

Maybe that’s why O’Donnell isn’t 100% sure of Romney yet:

“Right now, I’m 70 percent behind Romney,” she said. “I will absolutely max out if he’s the nominee.”

“It’s almost like we conservatives have to apologize for it, but we like him,” said O’Donnell of those in the Tea Party movement who favor Romney.

If Romney wins the nomination, I won’t have any problem supporting him against Barack Obama.  I’m not as sure as O’Donnell that a “lawn gnome” could beat Obama in 2012, but that argument actually undermines her position.  If anyone could beat Obama in 2012, then why should the Tea Party get behind Romney now, instead of a candidate — perhaps Herman Cain, perhaps Rick Perry or even Newt Gingrich, that might represent their values more closely?  And why should we not debate the record of the candidates in the race now, before we have to get behind whoever ends up being the nominee, in order to make sure we know what we’re getting?

Give O’Donnell kudos, though, for taking a public position she knows will be unpopular among her supporters in the Tea Party movement.  It helps Romney to get some higher-profile support from the grassroots, and perhaps lowers the fears that a Romney nomination would mean kissing that enthusiasm good-bye in the fall of 2012.