Republicans “Evangelizing” Catholic Voters

Sarah Posner’s excellent analysis of the evangelical schism over the far-right rhetorical fork in the road—Christian nationalism vs. “religious liberty”—dovetails with my own reporting on the radicalization of Catholic voters over the religious liberty meme.

As Posner notes here on RD:

No matter how dubious one might find those religious freedom claims—notably, claims for exemptions from serving same-sex marriage celebrations, and, in other contexts, covering reproductive health care in a company insurance plan—it’s a mistake to ignore how that conversation is driving the evangelical world.

As I reported in Salon, right-leaning Catholic voters appear to be following the same path. While Catholics have long been swing voters—trending toward the GOP in the Bush years and then back to the Democrats in 2008 and, more marginally, in 2012—there has been a sudden and large defection of white Catholic voters to the Republican column in the past few years. The 14-point gap that has opened up between white Catholics favoring the GOP versus the Democrats means that for the first time, white Catholics are now more Republican than white Protestants.

And while there are certain long-term trends driving this divide—from the Catholic bishops preaching that “good” Catholics can’t vote for pro-choice Democrats to the mass defection of many liberal Catholics from the religion altogether—they don’t explain the suddenness of the defection.

What does seem to explain it is the bishops ginning up of the religious liberty fight over the contraception mandate in the affordable care act, the push for same-sex marriage and the disqualification of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from a large contract to provide services to victims of sex trafficking.

As I note in Salon:

According to Pew, between 2009 and 2014, the number of white Catholics who said the Obama administration — and by inference the Democratic Party — was “unfriendly to religion” more than doubled from 17 percent to 36 percent.

This suggests that the war on religion is resonating with Catholic voters who increasingly see themselves on the losing side of a culture war and feel the need to assert their religious identity in a more public and forceful manner that traditionally has been the territory of Evangelicals. And, as Posner notes, religious liberty looks to be a key theme in 2016:

[Evangelicals] are looking at a candidate like Walker, or even Jeb Bush (a Catholic), who is personally religious and, crucially, “gets” evangelical culture. Bush’s Right to Rise PAC recently signed Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, as a senior advisor—a move the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody called “a big get” for courting the evangelical vote. While Sekulow has been at the forefront of the culture wars, the ACLJ is also one of several religious right legal firms who, for example, brought legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage requirement.

So far Bush hasn’t proved very adept at firing up the religious liberty rhetoric. When he was caught off guard and asked about same-sex marriage in Florida, he reverted to the default Republican “local decision” rhetoric before his PR team came up with a more polished answer a few hours later that referenced “those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty.”

No doubt he will seek to up his game with Evangelicals and right-leaning Catholics over the next few months. The irony is that Bush, an Episcopalian convert to Catholicism, is in many ways the most traditional Catholic of the sizeable number of Catholics jostling for the GOP nod. Bobby Jindal has labeled himself a “Catholic Evangelical” and even hosted “The Response,” a prayer extravaganza that amounts to a full-out paean to Christian nationalism.

Rick Santorum has long courted the Christian right with his anti-abortion rhetoric and was once named by Time magazine as one of the nation’s “25 Most Influential Evangelicals.”

Marco Rubio so conflates Catholicism and Evangelicalism that he toggles back and forth between attending a Catholic church and a Baptist mega-church. Chris Christie who?

By contrast, Jeb Bush’s brand of go-to-church-in-polo-shirts, cozy-up-to-powerful-bishops (who then turn a blind eye as you preside over a record number of executions) and occasionally make-noise-about-how-much-you-care-for-the-poor-as-you-gut-social-welfare-programs-type of Catholicism, as detailed by the New York Times, seems positively 20th century.

The question now is whether, just as his brother used “compassionate conservatism” to attract Catholics to the GOP, Jeb can toughen-up his Catholicism—particularly his moderate stance on immigration and his rhetoric on religious liberty—enough to attract both Evangelicals and increasingly evangelical-like Catholics?

  • apotropoxy

    Within the RCC, the two groups can be identified as the Ayn Rand Calvinists and the Sermon on the Mountaineers.

  • CitizenWhy

    This is why nominal or “get baptized” Catholics – and the young – in increasing numbers no longer identify as catholic in any way. The Catholic church is now a subordinate subsidiary of the Republican party and its clergy believe that Fox News is the only reliable “news” source. Pope Francis is conservative enough, but he is also a flash in the pan who will be replaced by a rigid conservative. white US catholics are shrinking, and Hispanics are beginning to abandon the Catholic church in large numbers, most often for secularism, with fundamentalism in second place. The Catholic church in the US will resemble the church in Europe: devoted right wing followers, some aging liberals, largely irrelevant to any nation’s life.

  • Jim Reed

    How about the nuns? Are they Fox News Junkies, or do they tend to be more Jon Stewart Catholics?

  • TheGodless

    Couldn’t this gap be a side-effect of so many liberal minded people defecting from Catholicism and organized religions in general? If Americans are truly becoming less religious, it would be expected for the surviving religious groups to be made up of radicals that cling to their “faith” despite it being unviable and irrational to do so. With the pressures of a dwindling fan base, the majority of Americans supporting progressive ideals (marriage equality, ending the drug war, etc.), and Catholicism and other Bible based religious groups having built in requirements for followers to be persecuted or feel like they are being persecuted (to ensure that Biblical prophecies are true) even when that isn’t the case, why would anyone be surprised by the remaining followers becoming radicalized?

  • Dn

    After seeing the 2012 voting guide in the local archdiocese, packed as it was with lies and distortions, fear mongering, bigotry, and even the abject misuse of scripture — signed by the archbishop — and reading, as it did, like a script for a Fox News program — it is plain to me why “low information” Catholics vote Republican and better informed ones leave. I won’t have the Fox News Channel in my house, and I sure as heck won’t drive to church for a performance of its message there. If the church becomes (or is) largely irrelevant, I say good riddance.

    To the bishops who say at voting time that war is “negotiable” but marriage equality and abortion are not, I hold YOU responsible for the wars, ISIS, the financial crisis, deregulation, income inequality, lack of reasonable action on gun violence and climate change. I hold YOU responsible for my friends who have lost jobs and pensions and homes to unscrupulous, unregulated corporate practices — enabled by the good Christian Republicans you direct people to vote for under threat to their salvation. I hold YOU responsible when my gay friends and relatives are bullied and beaten.

    A lot of people put 2 + 2 together and conclude: The world would be much better off without the church.

  • Judith Maxfield

    I guess thinking of one’s self is just to hard, or as Scott Peck stated in “The Road Less Traveled”, people are just too spiritually lazy (paraphrased). This is one good reason I am afraid of too much immigration from south of our border. A good number of latin and very poor people I’ve met seem to accept authority too easily. It may be out of fear if they are illegally here, but the understanding of the patron system has kept them in line, easily matching conservative catholicism and evangelical world views. Sorry to say that, but I’ve always worried about that.

    This stuff – all of it – is very depressing for any hope for enlightenment, democracy and better educated citizens. I can’t see how this attitude of control fits in with the original – and radical teachings of Jesus in the Gospel that elevates universal longing for justice, equality, and peace.

  • Marco Polo

    So what you are saying is the world would be better off without Jesus Christ.
    Am I correct?

  • Marco Polo

    You are not Catholic are you?

  • Whiskyjack

    It makes me long for the good old days when Protestants spent much of their energy and vitriol ranting against the evil Papists.

  • Dn

    Which Jesus Christ? The one who watches the Fox News Channel, and like several “Christian” politicians is eager to disrupt diplomatic negotiations and start a new war with Iran so that rich moguls here can make money selling weapons — politicians voted into office at the urging of the bishops? Or the Jesus Christ who said “put down your sword” and “Blessed are the peacemakers”?

  • Marco Polo

    Yes. Such a good Christian thing to do. But, you go right ahead. Jesus would be sooooooo proud of you.

  • Marco Polo

    BTW – Take your backwoods, bible-thumping, anti-Catholic(and probably anti-Jew) attitude back to the Klan meeting.

  • Whiskyjack

    Did you miss the English class where they taught the concept of irony?

  • Marco Polo

    Maybe your attempt at ‘irony’ sucks. Just sayin’.

  • Whiskyjack

    You might also want to look at a little history.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Catholicism_in_the_United_States

  • Jim Reed

    No, but I admire Catholics for not thinking they need to pay much attention to church teachings.

  • Jim Reed

    We are not surprised. We have been watching that happening. As some of the more rational ones finally decide they must leave the religion, it becomes a little smaller, and even more irrational, but that also makes them more sure they are right because the group that is left does an even tighter job of encouraging each other in their chosen path.

  • George M Melby

    You need to realize something right now! The PEOPLE are the church! Christ is the HEAD of the church… WHEN the people follow him! What Christ teaches, and what the Catholic church (especially) and most right wing churches teach today shows a vast desert between the two entities! Jesus Christ is NOT the problem! His faux religious zealots who sell snake oil devotion to their lemmings is what is the problem! Pastor George M Melby, M.Div. Pastor/Chaplain

  • George M Melby

    To a point… see my epistle to Marco Polo (?) below. Peace and blessings!

  • George M Melby

    Thank you! You see the difference plainly!

  • George M Melby

    Blessedly, NO!

  • George M Melby

    Heh heh heh! Nice!

  • George M Melby

    Oh Marco, Marrrco! Please, such bitterness and jealousy? Is this what you deduce from the teachings of Christ? Do three HMs, a Lord’s Prayer, and a hop skip and jump from the Confessional Booth

  • George M Melby

    For shame, witness for Christ!

  • George M Melby

    Methinks Marco missed more than English classes… Hmmmm!

  • George M Melby

    Blessedly, NO!

  • Marco Polo

    Your hatred and open bigotry on your Facebook and your comments on other sites speaks volumes. Anyone who disagrees with you is wrong. Good luck with that.

  • andrew123456789

    I left. I like some of what Pope Francis is saying, but he’s confusing too. I see no reason to go back beyond that inner yearning that drives me nuts now and then. I don’t need a church to tell me if I can do yoga, or be a happy gay man, or which hand I can take Communion with. For it to be a church of the people, it needs to completely restructure itself. The powerful backlash (at the top) against Vatican II has stalled everything. I had a friendly priest tell me once that in spite of all my wanderings, the RCC is still my home. Sorry, but home should feel like a nest of scorpions. Right-wing Catholics, like right-wing anything, well, I have no time, energy, room for that. I have my own evolution and, perhaps, salvation to attend to. I’m probably one of apotropoxy’s “Sermon on the Mountaineers.”

  • andrew123456789

    I think, Marco Polo, you didn’t bother to put an ounce of thought into what Dn wrote.

  • Robyn Ryan

    I remember the worries that John Kennedy might ‘take orders from the Pope’ if elected president. Now Catholic bishops are demanding that we take our orders from the Pope. Anyone else have a problem with this?

  • Marco Polo

    BS

  • Robyn Ryan

    Euro-Jesus is the problem. what we have here is euro-Christianity. Which was always colonialist and bloodthirsty.

  • Jim Reed

    It’s not really a problem because now we know people won’t do that.

  • Robyn Ryan

    I refuse to owe fealty to an all-male deity.

  • Robyn Ryan

    snicker….

  • Robyn Ryan

    mini-troll

  • Jim Reed

    Everyone has to decide if they believe the part about the church being the mechanism for getting dead people into heaven.

  • Marco Polo

    So much anti-Catholic bigotry here.

    Have fun…while it lasts.

  • Robyn Ryan

    Abrahamic religions are all having a rough time coping as they lose their ownership of their sacred documents. ‘Compare and contrast’ was never a good thing for tyrannical dogmas.

  • Robyn Ryan

    ummmmm. all over America, citizens remove shoes, expose their personal belongings and undergo intrusive searches to board a domestic airline flight. Our law enforcement storm troopers shoot us down in the streets, like dogs.
    And you’re worried about a people with the moxie to leave everything, brave horrific danger, suffer and work for slave wages – looking for a good paying job. Braving the Border Patrol? Living outside the Law.
    I worry about the fearful Americans.

  • Judith Maxfield

    Actually, I can agree with you. I took a risk to say what I said. Its just a snap shot of only one of many things for wondering about how our future will be. Its not at the top of priorities. Immigration raises a question about how people assimilate into our culture, with ease for them or not and how we will respond with mercy and justice. I’ve worked with immigrants and have cared a lot, believe me, to see them treated with respect and come to no harm because of not having papers. Its a dicy situation. Not everyone has the same concept of democracy, not even Americans apparently, given the mess we’ve made of the Middle East. I am open to asking difficult questions knowing I may get pc reaction but hope we can being to dialogue in respect for each other. Wouldn’t you agree? We are sorely lacking to honestly talk and listen in respect. Ferguson and Congress are great examples on a lack of civility. Thank you for your response.

  • missouri maggie

    I am a 73 yr old United Methodist.I left the catholic church 55 yrs ago though not for political reasons. So I am not really in touch with catholic thinking or teaching these days.I hear that the pope or American bishops want to be able to serve communion to divorced catholics. That doesn’t sound right wing to me.I don’t go to hear what they preach from the pulpit. I am troubled the spiritually lazy referred to by Scott Peck. I see them in my own church. They are like sheep following whichever shepherd doesn’t rock their boat; just tell me I’m saved and I’ll do what ever you say. I am far more liberal than my peers and disagree with my own church’s stance on many issues and voice my belief in my Sunday School Class. It scares me to see the direction the right wing political would take us. It is like having a 21st century “dark ages” and regression. I am pro -Choice. I believe people should marry the love of their life. All without Gov’t interference. This regression truly scares me. I worry that my one vote is not going to stop it.

  • Judith Maxfield

    Dead people into Heaven? Sorry my friend. You are using a very evangelical term and a badly misused expression by some. Quoting N.T. Wright, an very orthodox U.K.Anglican bishop and published theologian, “Heaven is not a mass evacuation plan”. There is at least another very clear Jesus statement, ‘Heaven is all around but man chooses not to see it.’ (paraphrase). Also in the (Torah), Deuteronomy has a verse that states pretty much the same idea. Its another knuckle headed screw up by ignorance an false teaching in certain churches. I just shake my head and feel pity for sincere believers who are misled by badly trained clergy. It seems to me they are always toiling and checking over their shoulder hoping they are good enough to get into a far off heaven when they die. That not what its about. I don’t believe a word of it and I do believe in and trust the teachings of Jesus, who thank God, can’t be blamed for starting a church, which he didn’t. Jesus lived and died a Jew.

  • SSipe

    When I became Catholic Christian nine years ago, I never imagined the Church would be where it is today. I stayed away from organized religion for most of my adult life because of the fear, ignorance, and hate spewed by so many fundamentalists and evangelicals. These past nine years I have witnessed what was once a “progressive” parish that once followed the teachings of Jesus become intoxicated with the “right to life” movement (not anti war or death penalty, mind you), heard more and more the anti-LGBT “hate the sin, not the sinner,” celebrations for “Religious Freedom,” prayers of the faithful, thanking God for SCOTUS decisions, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I’ve witnessed an increase in bigoted and racist comments from parishioners. I’ve watched what was once a thriving diocese become, well, a hot mess, under an arrogant Bishop. I have not sat silently along the side lines, nor will ‘I go quietly into the night,’ but there is a line at which I will say, “no more,” and I fear both the USCCB and my parish have pushed me perilously close to that very line.

  • Jim Reed

    Jesus sounds like an atheist here. So the key is don’t believe whatever the church says, unless it is saying something that doesn’t have any meaning. If it has no real meaning, then it can’t hurt and it is safe to believe.

  • Jim Reed

    It sounds like the moral majority is having some success. It has changed Christianity into a political powerhouse. The Catholic church has become this so that it can compete in a world that came under evangelical domination.

  • Jim Reed

    Jesus Christ is the love illusion, and we should try doing without it. We probably would be better off, once the church control aspect burns out. Nothing in the church is real, so as a society we need to somehow grow beyond the illusion to reach any higher spiritual level.

  • James

    Given the smug responses from “sophisticated” liberals in the comment thread, it is no surprise that people of faith are becoming more conservative.

  • Jim Reed

    Sorry, we can’t help it. The more weird their beliefs become, the more we will probably make even more fun of them. Since religion is not based on anything rational in the first place, there can’t be any religious solution. Weird beliefs are always going to lead to even more weird beliefs, and the problem will continue to compound. They will become more conservative, and that will make us more smug, and that will make them more conservative. The internet is the enabler. It will push us to grow the gap to the breaking point, and then it really will be end times for the world as we know it, and we will have to emerge in a new world on the other side of the conservative insanity. After that, IDK.

  • Craptacular

    “Your hatred and open bigotry on your Facebook and your comments on othersites speaks volumes. Anyone who disagrees with you is wrong. Good luck with that.” – Marco Polo

    I was just about to say the same thing to you, but you seem to be ashamed of your post history so you hide your profile. That’s what jesus recommended, right? Hiding your light under a bushel…or behind internet anonymity.

  • James

    Good to know you’d rather be self-satisfied than prevent the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine). Can’t have everything, I guess.

  • Marco Polo

    You go ahead and do without Jesus Christ.

    BTW – I did do without Jesus for most of my life. Didn’t do too good.

    Much better with Him now. Thanks for the advice! God Bless.

  • Jim Reed

    It might save some bloodshed if we can switch the end times battle from the middle east to the internet. It would be worth it to try.

  • Craptacular

    I notice that since the rcc has seemingly packed the US Supreme Court (six catholics now) at the same time catholic bishops seem to have found a louder political voice…coincidence?

  • James

    The US culture war merges with a longstanding Catholic divide that dates back to postwar Europe, especially postwar Italy. The Catholic Church is international, but it is also very Italian.

    Pre-war Catholic political theory backed a sort of “throne and altar” Catholicism, where an authoritarian right-wing government backed the Church. Austria-Hungary and Francoist Spain are classical examples of this. While the Vatican never liked Hitler or the Nazis, the relationship with Mussolini was far more complicated. The Vatican was occasionally critical of Il Duce, but generally compliant. Furthermore, the Vatican (perhaps understandably) saw Stalin as a greater evil than Hitler.

    The problem was that nearly all of the regimes supported by the Vatican ended up on the wrong side of the World Wars. Unlike Germany and Japan, Italy never fully or clearly came to terms with it’s Axis past after the war. But the divisions were there. John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul I (not a typo) were all more politically and culturally liberal and worked to move the Church toward engagement with the world on more liberal terms.

    Then John Paul II became Pope. Poland is an anomaly in Europe, where Catholic authoritarianism is remembered somewhat fondly as an alternative to the authoritarianism of the Kaisers, Tsars, Nazis, or Soviets. Benedict XVI had a similar view, as he correctly remembered the Catholic Church was one of the few institutions in Germany to provide any resistance or ideological alternative to Hitler. (Yet other German Catholics would note that the resistance could have been far stronger.) JPII and Benedict seem to share the political view that only an authoritarian Church could effectively oppose authoritarian ideologies.

    Bringing it back to the United States, there has long been an right-wing authoritarian impulse among certain aspects of American society. (And a far smaller, but disproportionately socially prominent, “left-wing” one.) The Catholic right gives these impulses a sense legitimacy. In the case of Evangelicals, it also gives them an intellectual heritage that Evangelicalism lacks. The Evangelicals bring numbers and fervency to the table.

    Pope Francis is an Argentine who opposed the right wing dictatorship
    in his country. He is also the son of an Italian labor union member,
    who fled when Mussolini took power. His political views are shaped by
    this. He has been notably unfriendly to the Catholic right in the United States.

    What will happen depends on how long Pope Francis will live and who will come next. If Pope Francis has a long reign, he will replace the bishops with more liberal one, and the Catholic right will eventually fade away. The Catholic Church will likely not be politically relevant except at the margins. If he is replaced soon and by a conservative, the Church will become increasingly right-wing, smaller, with its fate tied to the greater Evangelical religious right movement.

  • Jim Reed

    In America the evangelicals are nuts. Avoid them if you can.

  • Craptacular

    “BTW – I did do without Jesus for most of my life. Didn’t do too good.” – Marco Polo

    So because you need to wear glasses to see clearly, everyone needs to wear glasses or they cannot see clearly? Is that what you are implying?

    If so, then please elaborate on it. I have never understood this line of reasoning and would like your take on it, Marco Polo.

  • “The world would be much better off without the church” as it stands today with FOX NEWS and “religious liberty” politics, YES!

  • Gregory Peterson

    While Bush, a Catholic, can talk about a marriage sacrament…Protestant sects historically don’t have a marriage sacrament.

    Here’s an interesting article on the subject.

    By Elizabeth Drescher

    June 10, 2014

    Marriage is Not a Sacrament for Protestants and Why that Matters to LGBT Christians

    http://religiondispatches.org/marriage-is-not-a-sacrament-for-protestants-and-why-that-matters-to-lgbt-christians/

  • SDK

    If any of these people had seven children, I could consider taking them seriously. We should ask every member of Congress to go on record with their personal form of birth control.

  • Fired, Aren’t I

    Gee, and you were just defending us Jews in your comments above. Of course, we think the whole “God can have a flesh and blood son” thing complete CRAP (at least within the context of our monotheist beliefs/traditions)… but we seem to be doing just fine without Jesus.

  • Fired, Aren’t I

    Us Jews aren’t really freaking out so much about it. Besides,we don’t have an all-encompassing doctrine of “Hell.”

  • Marco Polo

    ‘CRAP’…Just can’t help demeaning others can you? I never mention the Jewish faith.

    Even though I do not owe this to you I will explain further. I had no, nada, zero belief in God either. Do not read false assumptions in what other people comment. We’re not writing doctoral dissertations here my friend.

    May God bless you this Passover with an abundance of grace. Peace.

  • maryann26

    I know exactly what you mean by the “get baptized” Catholics. I do not consider myself Catholic at all anymore and have not for a long time. I was never religious and will not be joining any other religious organization.

    I am sick of hearing about the religious screaming over anything. It is a pity they would not practice some kindness in life instead of constantly fighting.

  • kev hurls

    “- seems positively 20th-century”? I hope that is an intentional slip. (newsflash: It’s the 21st-century and the completely popular/ANTIspiritual message of Jeb-Tard and repukelickan “Catholics” is absolutely ridiculous)

  • Jeffrey Samuels

    Thank God for that!