WASHINGTON, D.C. — Comprehending the demographics of votes for President Donald Trump and Joe Biden in the Nov. 3 presidential election is expected to take months.
But there’s some thinking the so-called “Catholic vote” on which Trump depended was not as singularly focused on abortion, and the Supreme Court appointment of Amy Coney Barrett, as Republicans hoped.
“Catholics are too large to be considered a monolithic group,” said Michael Murphy, director of Catholic studies at Loyola University Chicago and director of Loyola’s Hank Center for Catholic Intellectual Heritage.
Murphy was one of several speakers in a Nov. 5 webinar, “Results, Reflection, Renewal,” sponsored by the Hank Center and Commonweal magazine.
Steven P. Millies, director of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, criticized the preelection effort by the bishops to focus on party platforms, while the Republicans didn’t produce one this year, instead issuing a statement of support for the 2016 platform.
He called that “a view of political life that I want to characterize as peculiar … because it’s ignoring the virtues of people entirely … and focusing on a platform.”
Millies also called Trump’s presidency “the logical endpoint of that outcome,” in which Republicans were focused on adding pro-life judges to the federal judiciary and “focused on getting the Catholic vote to deliver an endgame.”
In the run-up to the election, individual Catholic bishops may have commented on the parties’ “platforms.”
But as a body, the U.S. bishops did not comment on any platform, but rather pointed Catholics to their quadrennial document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” The document covers a host of political and social issues to assist Catholics in forming their consciences.
Some bishops in statements or op-eds emphasized that neither party fully embraces Catholic teaching.
In his remarks, Millies made several observations about Trump, including him paying off — before the 2016 election — a porn star in an attempt to buy her silence about a 2006 affair the two had and reacting to the Charlottesville, Virginia, tragedy of August 2017 in which Heather Beyer was killed after a neo-Nazi rally, as having “fine people on both sides.”
Trump later said he was commenting about those who demonstrated, “not the neo-Nazis and white supremacists because they should be condemned totally.”
Millies also accused Trump of bungling the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As for Biden, Millies said he was puzzled by the “strange picture of Biden as a bad Catholic” and was “struck by the overall decency of the man.”
“Our approach to this must change,” he added. A new Supreme Court judge “won’t stop a single abortion.”
Ahead of the election, a number of polls said a larger percentage of Catholics said they would vote for Biden despite his support for legalized abortion.
With the danger of the Republican Party become “the party of white ethno-nationalism … holding onto the past,” Milles said, “I think it’s really important to step back into a nonpartisan state. And to seize this opportunity with a second Catholic invited to the White House.”
Catholics, he said, should “recognize the changed moment … that the last five elections have not delivered what we wanted.”
Miguel Diaz, a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, thought Americans “must draw upon our deepest cultural reserves,” after Trump announced lawsuits in several states over what he and his campaign said described as voting irregularities.
He recalled Pope Francis’s address to Congress in 2015, in which he said: “Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.”
Murphy called the moment at the Republican National Convention in which former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz called Biden “a Catholic in name only” as “really dangerous. We know we’ve become the Pharisees that Jesus indicted in his social ministry.”
“The Catholic vote either doesn’t exist or isn’t a unified vote,” said Amanda Bryan, a political science professor at Loyola.
Still, she speculated whether “the church is underutilizing its own political power.”
Barrett, Bryan pointed out, is “one of the most vocal advocates that the church has ever seen against abortion, but her appointment “mattered not at all. It didn’t seem to particularly energize Republicans.”
“I don’t doubt that racism and patriarchy may have something to do with Trump’s support, said Bernard Prusak, director of the McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
But he said it’s a mistake to assume all Trump supporters are “racist, homophobic and xenophobic” and living in a Fox News bubble of limited information.
“Social identities shape voting behavior more than policy preferences do. Most people don’t have policy preferences about immigration or trade.” And the political “pivot culture,” Prusak said, “has long been Trumpian,” describing the president as behaving like a “longtime Democratic boss, thin-skinned and paternalistic.”
“He’s the bodyguard of people who feel slighted by the diploma divide,” he added.
Prusak called Trumpism “a class-based, cultural identity politics,” and its rise puts in doubt “whether the politics of the common good have any constituency.”
“It’ll be a few months before we really know” the demographics of the election, Millies said. “It isn’t just as simple as patriarchy and racism.”
“There is a partisanship that is cognitive and based on the issues,” said Molly Andolina, a political science professor at DePaul University in Chicago. But her observation from the president campaign was that “views on the pandemic are filtered through partisanship, not science: resulting in “the dehumanizing of the other. That shift is a dangerous one.”
“The Catholic Church, if anything, has a messaging problem with millennials, said Bryan. She’s found “that the church hasn’t been good about getting through to these millennials that they share their values, when they really do.”
She said that “the church needs to change its focus — or at least its messaging.”
“I don’t want to go all too quickly from Good Friday to Easter Sunday,” said Diaz. “We lose the ability to become compassionate and enter the pain of another human being.”