Trump’s huge, but not ‘massive,’ problem with Catholics

Catholics were the first to feel nativist hostility: Bill 'the Butcher' and his Know-Nothing pals in 'Gangs of New York'

Catholics were the first to feel nativist nastiness: Bill ‘the Butcher’ and his Know-Nothing pals in ‘Gangs of New York’

First, a bit of pedantry.

My first boss in the newspaper business after college, Reid Ashe, was an MIT-trained engineer, which affected his approach to newspaper editing. A pet peeve for him was the improper use of the word “massive.” Something could be big, and imposing, and extensive, and impressive, but if it did not have actual mass, it was not massive.

I’m sure he would have hated this hed in The Washington Post this morning: “Donald Trump has a massive Catholic problem.” Well, no, he doesn’t, Reid would say. It may be “yuge,” but it is lacking entirely in mass.

So. Moving on…

After that bad start, it’s a pretty interesting story. Obviously, I’m far from the only Catholic who can’t imagine how anyone can morally justify backing Trump. As far as I knew before reading this, it was just me and the Pope. And some friends and family members, of course. But if I’d thought about it, I’d have assumed there were a lot of us.

Which there are. An excerpt:

Yes, the man who once feuded with the pope (how soon we forget that actually happened) is cratering among Catholics.

Back in 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney lost the Catholic vote by just 2 points, 50 percent to 48 percent. And the GOP has actually won the Catholic vote as recently as 2004 and in 5 of the last 11 presidential elections.

But Trump trails among Catholics by a huge margin. A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute released this week shows him down 23 points, 55-32.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released earlier this month painted an even worse picture for Trump’s Catholic support. He was down by 27 points, 61-34.

If you compare the difference between Romney’s margin among Catholics in 2012 and Trump’s margin among Catholics this year, the 25-point difference is tied for the biggest shift of any demographic group in the Post-ABC poll….

This is significant because Catholics make up a quarter of the electorate.

A number of reasons are offered for this, including the Donald’s tiff with the Pope. But the most convincing is the most obvious: Catholics — particularly Irish and Italians — were the very first targets of the nasty nativism that forms the core of Trump’s appeal. And they (I use “they” instead of “we” because I’m a convert, so this narrative forms no part of my personal heritage) haven’t forgotten.

These lads are unlikely to back you, Donald.

These people’s descendants are unlikely to back you, Donald.

54 thoughts on “Trump’s huge, but not ‘massive,’ problem with Catholics

  1. Karen Pearson

    I know that there are a lot of them out there, but I have a hard time seeing how anyone claiming to be Christian who has actually read the NT, especially the Gospels could support Trump, although I can understand why he/she wouldn’t wish to support Hillary either.

    1. Doug Ross

      “especially the Gospels could support Trump, ”

      How did he manage to be Hitler and go unnoticed up until six months ago?

      If you believe in the Ten Commandments, how could you vote for Hillary, anyway? Couple important ones in there about lying and adultery. She breaks the first one all the time and accepted her husband breaking the second one many times. But that’s okay. It’s all relative when it comes to following the Bible, apparently.

      1. Doug Ross

        Let’s see how Hillary’s campaign responds to the latest Anthony Weiner revelations. The level of hypocrisy in political campaigns is amazing. They’ll say this is a private matter and to respect the families during a difficult time. Meanwhile, if one of Trump’s staffers was involved in a similar situation, the Democrats would be playing it up to epic proportions.

        Can’t either side just be honest that they are supporting candidates who live in a different world where ethics and morality are not core principles? Hillary and Trump don’t deserve any votes.

        1. Bryan Caskey

          “Can’t either side just be honest that they are supporting candidates who live in a different world where ethics and morality are not core principles?”

          I think we can all agree that neither is in danger of ever being sainted.

          1. Juan Caruso

            I think many voters have already determined that their children’s live will be little more than political fodder in military service under Commander-in-Chief Hillary Clinton.

            Trump leaves quite the opposite impression with those who actually ever served in our military.

            Required military leadership demands that sending troops in harms way never be subject to the “extraordinary carelessness” which exposes sensitive classified intelligence to potential enemies. Otherwise, a draft will again be needed to cure military retention and recruitment shortfalls a president HRC will face.

                1. Juan Caruso

                  KF, seems to me that Mr. Trump received a draft deferments not dissimilar to what you and many law school students of the era received.

                  Given those obvious similarites, what superficial conclusion would you have me apply only to Mr. Trump?

                  Mark, “temperament and knowledge???”.
                  As you should know by now, I prize business discipline, which Wharton grad Trump certainly has.

                  There is compelling proof that Trump will overcome government inertia and unaccountable waste ($$$ down the drain) — he demosnstrated this to NYC:

                  “Having fallen into utter disrepair during the New York City fiscal crisis, unable to make ice, the city’s Parks Department embarked on a total refurbishment of the facility in 1980, estimating it would take two years to complete. After six years and having flushed $13 million down the drain, the city announced they would have to start all over again and it would another two years to complete. Wollman Rink had quite visibly failed. The Wollman Rink fiasco amplified the public perception of the general incompetence of government and their inability to complete even the simplest projects.

                  Trump would step in and take over the construction and operation of the project for no profit and have it up and running in time for the holiday season. Koch tried mightily and quite sneakily tried to reject

                  Instead of failing, Trump finished the job in just four months at a final cost 25% below the budget. ”

                  The Democratich mayor at the time was lawyer Ed Koch. Lawyers are reknowned for their undisciplined approaches to civic management.

                2. Kathryn Fenner

                  I am a woman and not subject to the selective service. There was no draft when I was in school, even if there had been a draft of women. If there had been been a draft, I surely would have been classified as physically unfit to serve. My knees are malformed and I am unable to run without quickly developing severe tendinitis. Which underscores how short-sighted the military is: I would have made an excellent soldier based on my ASVAB scores–I am off the charts on organizational and clerical abilities, plus pretty much all the other mental tasks they scored. Put me behind a desk, and I could win the war. Everybody doesn’t need to be able to run and jump and carry a pack, etc.

                  Trump’s business ventures….yeah, they have turned out so well….

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    I was never called for a physical — high lottery number — but if I had, they’d have tossed me out for the chronic asthma.

                    And true, I might have had an attack in the humid jungle and gotten the platoon wiped out.

                    But surely I could have done SOMETHING.

                    But that’s the Selective Service for you. Might as well get a fit specimen, in case you want to send him onto a battlefield. Makes some sense…

                3. Kathryn Fenner

                  Brad–you could have done wonders with communications, even stateside. An early law practice mentor paid for his education with ROTC, and served in the naval JAG corps (not sure if that’s what it’s called in the Navy and don’t care, but trying to stave off nitpickers) in DC. Asthma would not have been the slightest hindrance, nor hinky knees.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author


            Just now, a year later, ran across Bryan’s assertion that “neither is in danger of ever being sainted.”

            Apparently, you missed the “Saint Hillary” piece in The New York Times Magazine in 1993. They didn’t really mean it in a nice way…

            st. hillary

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          This is a Tweet quoted today in The Washington Post: “Anthony Weiner is proof that the Clintons don’t actually have people murdered.”

        3. Johnny Angelo

          What is worse than the level of Hypocrisy in political campaigns is that the American people allow the politicians to show that level of hypocrisy— Indications are that the voters are as equally bad …or worse!!!

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        I can’t begin to see the relationship between Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and Anthony Weiner’s perversion.

        I feel really bad for Huma Abedin. I have ever since I heard she was married to that guy. I don’t see how that relates to her boss’ candidacy.

        And I can’t recall ever having anything to say about it when “one of Trump’s staffers was involved in a similar situation.”

        This is nothing like, say, Bill Clinton messing with an intern IN THE WHITE HOUSE. That was a firing offense, as it would be for any CEO in America. That was relevant to the job.

        This in no way involves HIllary. It doesn’t even have anything to do with anything her employee did. It was her employee’s HUSBAND.

        How could anyone hold the candidate responsible for that?

        1. Doug Ross

          Seems like everything done by Trump’s staffers is fair game. One guy grabbed the arm of a woman and that turned into Trump supports violence. All I read last week was that Trump selecting Manafort showed his questionable judgment.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Doug, a guy working for Trump (his campaign manager, no less!) grabbed a reporter who was covering him at a campaign event! Can you not see how that is relevant?

            And if you mean the Breitbart guy instead of Manafort, it sure as anything speaks to his judgment (as did Manafort back when he chose him). Choosing the person to run your campaign compares to choosing your chief of staff, or secretary of state, once elected.

            How on Earth could you even for a moment see that as irrelevant? Trump dumps the guy who was trying to get him to run like a sane Republican, and replaces him with someone notorious for being almost as loony as Trump, and you see that as being in the same ballpark as what Hillary’s employee’s husband does in his wretched private life?

            I would say these things were light years apart, but they’re not even in the same universe…

            1. bud

              Brad you’re correct but this oozes with irony that the master of the false equivalency points out the distinction.

            2. Doug Ross

              The grabbing of the woman’s arm was so it was ridiculous. That then became fodder for the whole Trump encourages violence talking point ingested by liberal sheep.

              Huma Abedin was quoted not long ago that she was lucky that her husband was able to care for their son while she spent all her time with Hillary. Then he gets caught sexting photos of himself with the son laying in the bed next to him. If Hillary has any decency she will send Huma home for the rest of the campaign to care for her son. Think she will?

                1. Doug Ross

                  Please. There were a few very minor incidents at a couple rallies months ago. All blown out of proportion to support the talking points.

                  You really think Trump is a violent, evil person? Really?

              1. Doug Ross


                Do you think Hillary should ask Huma to leave the campaign for the sake of her son? Should she even HAVE to be asked to leave?

                These people put political ambition over every other aspect of their lives.

      3. Lynn Teague

        “She . . . Accepted her husband breaking the second one many times”. Sounds pretty biblical to me. Matthew 18:21, “How many times shall I forgive my brother or a sister who has sinned against me? I say not seven times but seventy times seven ” Personally I don’t think much of this standard in this circumstance, can’t recommend it, but it is surely biblical.

            1. Doug Ross

              Interesting how people choose when to use the bible for support. Just pick the passages that support your beliefs but don’t go in for the whole system.

              I’d love to hear Hillary publicly use the Bible as the foundation for her belief system as to why she stayed with Bill.

              1. Kathryn Fenner

                It is not the public’s damn business why Hillary stayed with Bill, but her Methodist faith has a much longer, deeper history than Donald Trump’s Presbyterian faith (for the record, he and Melania were married in an Episcopal church in Florida)….

                1. Lynn Teague

                  Amen, Kathryn. Even politicians deserve to make some basic personal decisions without laying their souls bare for the salivating public.

                2. Doug Ross

                  She could have stayed with Bill after he resigned the Presidency for disgracing the office by having an affair with an intern/employee. He didn’t. She didn’t. They didn’t. Their response to Bill’s behavior (which was far worse than anything Weiner did) disqualifies them both in my view from ever being near the White House again.
                  Whatever personal decisions they made could have been made after Bill resigned. He lied, she supported the lies, and they put their own naked ambition over anything else.

      4. Karen Pearson

        I was going to respond by pointing both to Jesus and to the prophets, as prime promoters of caring for the sick, impoverished, and displaced, while calling out those whose pride in doing everything right prevents them from having compassion for those who were too poor, or too sick, or too lost to do everything right, but others have already done so quite well.

        1. Doug Ross

          Did Jesus mention the government in any of his teachings? Jesus would laugh or cry at liberals’ “take from the rich to give to the poor” lais·sez-faire compassion. God isn’t going to measure anyone on which politicians they supported. He doesn’t care a bit about trivialities like elections.

          1. Mark Stewart

            Do we care about character, compassion and empathy? And leaving the world a better place – particularly in the areas nearest us, those we can directly impact?

            Just checking … The negativity wears on me sometimes.

            1. Doug Ross

              I do. That’s why I won’t vote for Trump or Hillary. There isn’t any character, compassion, or empathy in either of them. They’re about ambition, greed, and power.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Jesus had little to say to politics in his own day — although he pretty much slammed the anti-tax crowd with his “render unto Caesar” observation. (To understand how to apply that to today, just imagine that he asked to see a dollar bill instead of a Roman coin. Render unto Washington…)

            But of course, in that day, ordinary citizens — and especially the subjugated people of Palestine — had no say in government, and therefore no moral responsibility with regard to it.

            The situation today, in this country, is 180 degrees from that. Today, we all have a say in how we are governed. That places upon us an obligation to vote justly and in accord with our deepest principles.

            1. Doug Ross

              “pretty much slammed the anti-tax crowd with his “render unto Caesar” observation.”

              That”s your interpretation. And it’s an amazing leap of logic to go from three words to the U.S. government 2000 years later. Should Christians around the world accept whatever their government asks of them?

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yes, you do.

        I meant to post something at the time about a piece Cindi ran a couple of weeks ago on oped. It was written by a Catholic writer lecturing us on our obligation to make a choice and VOTE!

        Fine as far as it went. But this woman took the copout of acting as though Trump and Clinton were somehow equally bad, and suggested voting for a third party.

        WHICH IS THE SAME AS VOTING FOR TRUMP! You fail to vote for the one person who can defeat Trump, and you’re voting for one possible outcome: The election of Trump.

        Talk about wasting the franchise…

        Of course, with Hillary there is the abortion stumbling block for Catholics (which, interestingly, this story I cited today failed to mention).

        But if you’re going to let that stop you, then you can never vote for a Democrat (except in very, very rare cases, as with Bob Casey on the national level, or Vincent Sheheen in SC — both Catholics, of course). Even most Catholic Democrats put their party’s ideology ahead of the church’s core respect for life.

        And you just can’t do that. You have to accept that Democrats are going to violate that part of Catholic social teaching, and Republicans are going to violate the parts about how we treat the stranger, and the least among us.

        Perceive the bad things about Hillary Clinton all you want; wallow in them if you like. Just don’t lose sight of the fact that Donald Trump represents a unique threat to American democracy, and only ONE person can stop him…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          And that’s not just a matter of civic duty. I believe it is our moral duty as Catholics to preserve the unique American experiment. It is essential to freedom of conscience around the globe that this country remain the first among the planet’s liberal democracies, the one great hope for people of all faiths and creeds.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          OK, I found that piece I was referring to. It was by one Christine Flowers of the Philadelphia Daily News.

          It had a misleading headline: “Why it hurts not to vote for either candidate.” Attracted by that hed, I went in expecting to agree with it wholeheartedly.

          But then, at the end, she said that’s exactly what she’s going to do: not vote for either candidate!

          So I found that irritating. I also was irritated by her excessive melodrama in proclaiming that “billions of Hail Marys would not wipe the stain from my soul if I supported either one.”

          And they say we converts are intense. Personally, I’m not entirely sure I can recite a Hail Mary, because they didn’t teach us that stuff in convert school. They didn’t even teach us how to cross ourselves. But I picked it up. You know how? By watching Latin ballplayers, and Sicilian gangsters in the movies. So I do it Latin style, with the little kiss to the thumb at the end…

          But I digress…

        3. Kathryn Fenner

          Here’s the thing about abortion: restrictions on legal abortion have been repeatedly shown not , yes NOT, to decrease the number of abortions, just the safety of them. What does reduce the number of abortions: scientifically accurate sex education, readily available contraception, opportunities for young women and girls, and education about same, etc. Which candidate do you think will effect those?

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Which is why I liked Hillary better when she was in the Senate and worked with pro-life colleagues toward policies meant to make abortions more rare. I seem to recall her making a big deal about building on that common ground.

            Since then, as a presidential candidate, she has been FAR more doctrinaire, more in the “never saw an abortion I didn’t like” camp.

            Which is a disappointment on a couple of levels, one of them being this: As the first woman to get this far in politics, I feel like she’s got some capital to burn with the more militant feminists. If they would let ANYBODY slide on pushing for any and all forms of abortion, it seems they’d cut her a break. She should be able to afford to stay where she was in the Senate on the issue — and by so doing, reach out to the rest of us…

            This piece in The Atlantic examines her ambivalence over time, ambivalence you can’t see when she uses such storming-the-ramparts language as “Politicians have no business interfering with women’s personal health decisions,” and “I’ve been proud to stand with Planned Parenthood for a long time, and, as president, I will always have your back.” Picking sides language. Us-against-them language. The kind of stuff people in her base love to hear her say, and which unnecessarily pushes me away.

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              Well, politicians do have no business interfering with a woman’s personal health decisions. Or anyone’s. Imagine a loved one has cancer and the chemo causes debilitating nausea. Marijuana has been repeatedly shown to help with that. Access to marijuana (or THC or cannabinol or) should not be held hostage to politics. Something is reasonably safe and effective, or it isn’t. Reefer Madness shouldnt enter into it. If heroin is a very effective pain reliever for terminal cancer pain, with far fewer side effects, should it not be available?
              Pregnancy is more dangerous than legal abortion. A woman should always have to right to choose. Make it easier for her to make the choice you want her to make–in concrete, constructive ways like affordable child care and paid maternity leave, and there’s a far better chance she’ll make it.
              Maybe if the Right weren’t trying all manner of polarizing, scientifically unwarranted, legally dodgy means to restrict abortions–but seldom those sought by rape or incest victims, because obviously *those* embryo/fetuses don’t count…..

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                “Well, politicians do have no business interfering with a woman’s personal health decisions.”

                That’s right, within boundaries. We do regulate medicine.

                But we weren’t talking about health decisions. We were talking about abortion. (Even if you grant that abortion is a form of health care — which I don’t — it is not EQUAL TO health care, but a mere subset of it, so it’s highly misleading to avoid the actual term.) And one of the reasons I used that particular quote was that I was looking for quotes that were perfectly doctrinaire, and that dishonest way of talking about abortion is a classic.

                Sorry, but health care is that which saves, preserves and enhances life — not that which destroys it. First, do no harm.

                Basically, when you frame it that way, you’re making an argument within an argument, and declaring yourself the winner of that argument without any discussion…

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  And if you don’t like me calling that a “dishonest way of talking about abortion,” then call it “evasive,” or “euphemistic.”

                  But personally, I’d prefer to go back to where we started. Hillary used to talk a lot about working across the battle lines to make abortion rare.

                  THAT’s the area where there’s opportunities to make progress, not in retreating to language that avoids or obfuscates, in order to achieve unconditional political victory…

                2. Kathryn Fenner

                  We don’t agree on when life begins. It’s stupid and pointless to discuss this further.

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Certainly. I’ll say nothing further about what I think of her statements, except to say again that — as with ANY divisive issue — I think it’s more constructive when she uses language that builds on areas of agreement to achieve shared goals than when she uses the catchphrases that only speaks to one side.

                  Again, that’s true of any divisive issue.

  2. Jim Cross

    Germans were also a major target of the “Know-Nothings” and later anti-Catholic movements from the 1850’s all the way to the 1930’s. Poles and other Central and Southern Europeans (including, of course, the Italians) were targets of anti-Catholicism during the early to mid 1900’s.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author


      Patrick Henry Phelan

      By the way, while I said my family has no direct knowledge of these things (I have yet to find a definite Catholic in the family tree, but I suspect the Warthens originally were, since they came to Maryland in the 1600s — a bit early for dealing with the Know-Nothings, of course), I can’t say that of my wife’s family. Her great-grandfather, Patrick Henry Phelan, came to this country from Ireland as a boy all alone, and we still don’t know the story of how that happened.

      He was traveling up the Mississippi by steamboat toward Ohio, and for some reason got off in Memphis and stayed. He later had a long career with the fire department, and for that reason was exempt from military service in the Civil War.

      I haven’t heard any stories of nativist prejudice against him, but then most of his history is a blank to us.

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