I’m getting e-mails from conservative Catholic readers who are ticked off by the “open letter” from conservative Catholic leaders, urging Catholic voters to reject Trump and to vote instead for “a genuinely reformist candidate.” The signatories are a Who’s Who of prominent conservative Catholics, among them Robert P. George of Princeton, and George Weigel. I’ll cite two that came in at about the same time.
One reader, a regular churchgoer, writes with disgust, saying that there are no “genuinely reformist” candidates, just Republicans with the same old same old. Plus, says the reader, the signatories say the Republican Party has been an imperfect vehicle for Catholic interests, but she hasn’t seen these signatories criticizing the GOP for falling short of Catholic teaching.
Another conservative Catholic reader, a lawyer who is also a regular churchgoer, writes to say that this open letter, and the Pope’s recent remarks critical of Trump, have pushed him into Trump’s camp. He was already furious over George Weigel’s backing for the Iraq War, and what he believes is the “Catholic neocon establishment”‘s failure to pay any kind of price for its failure in allying itself so closely with the Bush Administration. He writes:
I haven’t voted since Bush Jr.’s first term. I think I’m going to do it this time. To hell with the Republican establishment and the Catholic neocon establishment. And to hell with the Pope for his comment about not being a Christian for wanting to build walls.
This is an astonishing political and cultural moment on the Right. When grassroots orthodox Catholics no longer believe that their leaders, both ecclesial and lay, speak and lead in their interests, the world as we conservatives have known it for at least the last 30 years begins to fall apart. Personally, I don’t fault these Catholic leaders (some of whom are friends of mine) for taking a stand on an issue that they feel strongly about, especially one as critically important as the American presidency. But I also understand why these conservative Catholic readers interpret the statement as an attempt to shore up a party establishment that has failed, even on Catholic terms.
I’m reminded of something a friend of mine, a well-known journalist, told me about a conversation he had during the run-up to the Iraq War with a prominent conservative Catholic. The journalist, a secular liberal, said he challenged the conservative on why he and his Catholic ideological confreres were standing in favor of the Iraq War, and against their hero, Pope John Paul II. He said that the conservative Catholic told him that yes, he had more misgivings than he was letting on publicly, but it was important to maintain solidarity on the Right. If we (meaning social conservatives) want to see progress on the issues we care about, the conservative reportedly said, then we have to give on these other issues.
That’s Realpolitik, I suppose. But now the conservative Catholic establishment might be paying a price for its overidentification with the Republican establishment. This may be like Evangelical grassroots conservatives defying Evangelical leaders and voting for Trump anyway.
I could be wrong. These are only two readers, mind you, but I have heard similar things from other readers prior to the “open letter,” and I would not be surprised if there were many more like them. And if so, that means that the long alliance between conservative Catholics and the Republican Party may be drawing to an abrupt end. It’s not that they’re going to the Democrats, not as long as the Democrats remain pro-abortion and sold out to the Sexual Revolution. But if the sentiment in these e-mails is representative of a significant number of conservative grassroots Catholics, the Republican Party is watching the collapse of the Neuhaus-Weigel-Novak pillar of Catholic neoconservatism.
Does anybody have any non-anecdotal evidence of this? Or evidence that counters this hypothesis? It has been pointed out that Evangelicals who are regular churchgoers are generally not Trump supporters. What about Catholics? Both of the readers who wrote me are regular churchgoers, but again, that’s just anecdotal. If you find any hard polling evidence, let me know.