How Hillary's Choice of Tim Kaine Makes Trump's Catholic Problem Worse
For decades, millions of devout evangelicals and Catholics have voted for Republicans in national elections based in part on the GOP platform on abortion. The 2016 presidential election may muddy this trend. Presidential elections are won at the margins, and the Democrats have spotted an opportunity.
Donald Trump obviously breaks the mold for traditional presidential contests. But Trump realized months ago that he could not win without evangelicals. He has been talking to highly visible evangelicals for months. In June he participated in a widely publicized event in New York with almost a thousand evangelicals, and then set up an Evangelical Executive Advisory Board (full disclosure: I have friends on the board).
Last week, Trump chose a running mate with solidly evangelical credentials. Despite a major misstep last year on religious liberty, Indiana governor Mike Pence has been a consistent social conservative and outspoken Christian since his days in the US Congress. “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” he said during his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention in Cleveland.
The evangelical strategy seems to be working, especially with older white evangelicals, who at the moment overwhelmingly favor Trump over Clinton.
Notice anything missing? The New York Times did. As soon as Mike Pence was announced as Trump’s running mate, the Grey Lady published a long story: “Mike Pence’s Journey: Catholic Democrat to Evangelical Republican.” You see, Mike Pence grew up in a big, Democratic, Irish Catholic family, and most of his family is still Catholic. Mike, however, became an evangelical, and that fact still distresses the rest of his family.
Hmm. It’s almost as if the nation’s newspaper of record wanted to highlight a weakness in Trump’s campaign strategy and recommend a counter-strategy to the Democrats.
If so, the Clinton campaign got the message. For vice president, Mrs. Clinton picked Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. Kaine is a lifelong Catholic who did mission work with the Jesuits as a young man and who, until fairly recently, was more or less pro-life. He still claims to oppose late term abortions and he can talk the Catholic talk. Hillary was already touting his “faith” when she introduced him in Tampa over the weekend.
Tim Kaine is Joe Biden without the awkward gaffes and creepy gropes.
In a normal election, the Kaine choice might not make much difference. But this is anything but a normal election. The Democrats suspect that the Trump Campaign has a Catholic problem.
Of course, the Democrats also have a Catholic problem, or, more precisely, an abortion problem. Planned Parenthood has given awards to Hillary Clinton and given Tim Kaine, who is “personally opposed” to abortion, a perfect score on its ghoulish reckoning. Procured abortion, according to settled Catholic teaching, is an intrinsic evil.
For faithful Catholics, this should be a vote-killer. Yes, Democrats have had this problem for decades, and still managed to get millions of Catholic votes. But for those Catholics who are moderate on economics but tilt conservative on social issues, this makes it hard for them to pull the lever for Hillary and the Democrats.
Another way to look at Trump’s Catholic problem, then, is to see it as a missed opportunity. He could be using some of his vaunted salesmanship skills to invite these Catholic swing voters over to the Republican side, but the invitation seems to have been misplaced on the way to the post office.
Other GOP candidates, such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, had diverse religious liberty advisory boards that included Catholics and evangelicals. Trump has only an Evangelical Executive Advisory Board. Does he know that Catholics make up 22% of the American population, and fill the ranks of the pro-life movement?
Simply put, the Trump campaign has neglected to reach out to swing voters as Catholics, and Democrats and the mainstream media won’t neglect to exploit that oversight.
Will Clinton/Kaine help bring in millions of homeschooling, daily-Mass-attending Catholics on November 8th? No, but in such a tight race, they don’t have to.
There are millions of Catholics in the muddled middle who could swing either way in any particular election. Their political choices are shaped as much by appearances and impressions as by policies and ideas. Many of them could opt for the optics of Clinton/Kaine. Add to them the many conservative Catholics such as Robert George who refuse to vote for either ticket, and we could get a Democratic victory won on the margins by the choices of those Catholics who in any other year would vote Republican.
If the GOP is not yet worried about this, it better get started.