Fresh from an academic speaking engagement at Oxford University, poised to write a regular column and provide broadcast content for The Washington Times, and eager to defend herself in a potentially complex tax investigation, the onetime Republican Senate candidate has learned much and is eager to re-engage in the national political debate.
Ms. O'Donnell said in an interview that she is convinced the tea party is alive, well and vital to the nation’s future. She also believes Republican factions can settle their differences and prevail in upcoming elections.
“The real question is this: Will they unify? That remains to be seen. In our party, there’s a battle between power and principles,” she said. “The party needs to seriously consider its purpose and goals for 2014 and 2016. Is the goal simply to have more R’s than D’s in Congress? Or is the goal to have more R’s that actually stand for something?”
She sees herself on the cusp of reinvention after pulling off one of the biggest Republican primary upsets of the 2010 political cycle but losing badly to Chris Coons, Delaware Democrat, in the general election.
“Almost every time I have a public speaking engagement, the comment I hear the most is, ‘You’re nothing like I thought you’d be.’ A few times I’ve responded with, ‘What did you think I’d be like?’ The response is usually an embarrassed, ‘Well, you know ,’” Ms. O'Donnell said, with a pause.
She was celebrated: Ms. O'Donnell made the cover of Time and Newsweek during her Senate run four years ago, her third try for the office. But voters were also subjected to press coverage that often resembled caricature. Old videotape footage that surfaced suggested she practiced witchcraft, while liberal critics portrayed her as a fringe candidate. Some establishment Republicans blamed her for losing a Senate race that the party could have won with a more moderate candidate.
The watchdogs also showed up. Ms. O'Donnell later was accused of misusing campaign funds by the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which put her on a list of “crooked candidates.”
As her campaign took off, Treasury Department officials announced that her personal tax information had been compromised, a situation that remains unresolved. She equates the improper disclosures with reports of Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative and tea party groups for special scrutiny in recent years. Ms. O'Donnell went the distance, however.
“I knew very well that the slanderous attacks against me were intended to shame me off the battlefield,” she said.
Undaunted in the aftermath, Ms. O'Donnell formed her own political action committee, launched a legal defense fund and wrote a book titled “Troublemaker: Let’s Do What It Takes to Make America Great Again.” She stood at dozens of podiums, shook many hands, listened a lot, honed her skills.
Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak said, “I don’t know Ms. O'Donnell, and she has certainly been through the media wringer. Her notoriety offers her an opportunity many losing candidates don’t have. If she has issues she wants to advance, using that celebrity is a good thing. Some people don’t make good candidates, but they can succeed in other endeavors.”
Another run for office is not out of the question, however. ChristinePac.com, her political action fund website, is active and current. Ms. O'Donnell has inaugurated voter education projects and has fundraising apparatus in place; she continues to lash out against the Obama administration. The thought of hitting the campaign trail continues to attract.
“I can’t say never,” Ms. O'Donnell said. “Usually whenever I say I’ll never do something, I end up doing that very thing, almost immediately afterwards.”
She has a haven, however. Ms. O'Donnell cited a happy history with the Conservative Political Action Conference, which gets underway Thursday near the nation’s capital. She is convinced that the organization, marking its 50th anniversary, holds much promise for young people as well as for women.