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Are O'Donnell Skeptics Sexists? RINOs? Both?

Can't all us grizzlies get along?

2:40 PM, Sep 17, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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Jeri Thompson, a political commentator I admire and wife of former Sen. Fred Thompson, wrote a column for "The American Spectator" this week suggesting anyone skeptical of Christine O'Donnell is skeptical because they're sexist, boys-club types afraid of strong, anti-establishment women.

She uses Karl Rove, already RINO enemy No. 1 this week, as her example:

A strong, vocal woman upturned the political tables in Delaware, a state where both political parties have been run like blue-blooded patriarchies for the better part of half a century, and all the boys that compose "the establishment" can muster is omniscient edicts about her absolute un-electability in a general election.

Funny, I don't recall hearing similar talk from the likes of Mssrs. Rove and Cornyn after Scott Brown won in Massachusetts, Joe Miller won in Alaska, or Rand Paul won in Kentucky. In fact, despite similar sliming by the state party apparatus before Paul's victory Rove was downright supportive of him, saying on Fox News that Rand Paul could win the general election, just as he could win the primary.

In this example, Rove's history of backing Tea Party candidates is improbably turned against him simply because some of those candidates were male. He's a bit hemmed in here, isn't he? If he supports male Tea Partiers and not Christine O'Donnell, he's sexist. If he supports female establishment candidates like Kay Bailey Hutchison, he's a RINO. And, completely forgotten in the zeal to declare him both a sexist and a RINO is the fact that he's spending millions of dollars on  female Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle in Nevada.

But Rove certainly doesn't need me defending him. The only reason I bring it up is because the treatment of Rove is symbolic of the treatment of any conservative with questions about O'Donnell. O'Donnell backers' principal complaint about Rove's blunt recitation of her political problems on Fox News the night of her win is that it gave Democrats talking points with which to hurt a conservative candidate. Fair point.

What does declaring the entire GOP establishment sexist just because it didn't get behind one female candidate do? It bolsters the left's carefully crafted and effective caricature of the right as a place that doesn't welcome women. It gives Democrats a talking point, not to use against one candidate, but to use against the entire conservative movement.

And, it does it just when women voters are moving toward McDonnells and Christies, and a crop of very strong women candidates has even the mainstream media taking notice. If those who have concerns about O'Donnell are simply "intimidated by a strong woman," how do we explain support for Jane Norton, Sue Lowden, Kelly Ayotte, Linda McMahon, Martha Roby, Susanna Martinez, Nikki Haley, or Kristi Noem?

There was a Palin Effect, but it didn't inspire only women who are Sarah Palin's ideological clones, and that's fine (positive, even!). Even Sarah Palin approves. She endorsed Carly Fiorina over Tea Party favorite Chuck Devore in California. Was she a RINO then? Were Tea Partiers sexist?

Of course not. Each made a judgment call, and the Fiorina/Devore race didn't become the national litmus test for either true conservatism or hidden misogyny.

But the O'Donnell race was different. She is seen as a Palin-esque figure. Any criticism of her was deemed akin to the brutally unfair media treatment Palin got in 2008, and the retaliation for such treatment was correspondingly passionate. And, thus those who worked in the Reagan administration, wrote the book on Obama's Chicago past that the media wouldn't, profiled Marco Rubio as a credible candidate in May 2009, cheered the defeat of RINO Dede Scozzafava, energetically defended the Tea Party against accusations of racism and violence, and dogged Martha Coakley as she gaffed and shoved her way to a stunning loss in Massachusetts became sexist RINOs (or were personally attacked on Facebook) because they addressed legitimate shortcomings of one female candidate. There's a real struggle going on between some of the establishment, which is skeptical of Tea Partiers, and the grassroots. But skepticism in one race over one candidate does not an "establishment sell-out" make.

The thing is O'Donnell is not Palin, whose substantial record was often ignored in favor of a reporter pile-on unmatched in its intensity and focus on petty, often unfair and untrue, personal psychoanalysis and questionable narrative-fitting anecdotes. Criticism of O'Donnell from conservatives was not akin to the treatment Palin got and deploying the same type of attack on longtime conservative allies as one would on the New York Times or Nancy Pelosi is not productive. It's the Meghan McCain strategy for winning friends and influencing people. We hate it when she paints conservatives and Republicans with a broad brush, reinforces our adversaries' stereotypes of us, marshals little proof in defense of either, and then asks us to merrily join hands with her as she fights for our cause. Why are we pulling a Meggie Mac on each other?

The people of Delaware spoke, O'Donnell is the nominee, and she's done very well in her debut interviews in the national spotlight. She is certainly conservative on policy, and a skilled campaigner. I am not here to defend the disrespectful treatment of her by the NRSC, which announced it would not back her immediately after her win before back-pedaling, or the Castle camp's decision to stealthily campaign against her. I'm not deeming legitimate every mainstream media and liberal attack on her religious beliefs or sexual mores, which have already become as nasty as the ones on Palin.

What I'm genuinely interested in is that, for conservatives, the trauma of Sarah Palin's genuinely horrible treatment by the media does not lead us to reflexively deem assessing a candidate's record or character an act of beytrayal. This political process happened in primaries all over the country, with genuine conservatives often lining up on different sides of the fight. The newfound enthusiasm for excommunication arose in the O'Donnell race because O'Donnell reminded everyone of Palin and her critics consequently  reminded O'Donnell backers of Palin critics, fairly or unfairly.

But O'Donnell is not exempt from this perfectly natural political process simply because she's a conservative woman in the mold of Sarah Palin, just as Mike Castle was not exempt from a conservative challenge from her simply because he was an incumbent. To suggest she is exempt comes close to conferring liberal "special rights" upon conservative women, who as Thompson and Palin and I all agree, are plenty strong enough to do without them.

Now, back to taking the House and a bunch of Senate seats with an enthused Tea Party, great conservative candidates, and an electorate more poised to embrace conservative common sense than in a generation. It's enough to make all the Mama Grizzlies smile, no matter how rough one primary was.

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