You knew this story was coming sooner or later, in The Washington Post as well as in every other mainstream news outlet. The understated Post headline: "Donald Trump has a massive Catholic problem."
Of course he does. I mean, let's think it through.
Raise your hand if you are surprised that the majority of Catholics and ex-Catholics who oppose their church's defense of ancient Christian doctrines on sex, marriage, the defense of life from conception to grave and related issues are going to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Raise your hand if you are surprised that Catholics who say they support those teachings, but have not defended these doctrines in public life or even a voting booth since, oh, 1973, are going to vote for Clinton.
Raise your hand if you are surprised that millions of Latino Catholics are going to vote against Donald Trump.
So far, it's easy to do the math. So what is the interesting question in this piece of news? Hint. You will not find the answer in the Post piece that is currently getting lots of promotion. First, here are some key facts right up top:
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 10 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.
So what is the interesting question here?
Right! Who are the Catholics that voted for the GOP in recent elections, but are either voting for Clinton this time or planning to stay home this election day? Of course, it would also be interesting to know something about the Catholics who support Trump (perhaps in the blue collar Rust Belt), as well as those who detest the man, and what he symbolizes, but have decided they must pull the Trump lever in order to vote against Clinton.
So where to start? The goal here is to include a few paragraphs of material about the crucial segments of the Catholic vote (remember, there is no one Catholic vote) that a national GOP candidate must have in order to win.
Actually, this is a really easy question to answer. Let's flash back to a GetReligion post a few months ago:
The other day, a prominent pack of 40 Catholic conservatives opened fire on Citizen Trump in a letter published by National Review.
Ah, remember that? The Religion News Service story on this development reported:
Robert P. George, of Princeton University and George Weigel, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, headed the charge, and the appeal was also signed by opinion leaders from academia and religious media.
The letter denounces Trump for “vulgarity, oafishness, shocking ignorance, and – we do not hesitate to use the word -- demagoguery.” Worse, they wrote, he’s the opposite of what Catholics should seek in a leader.
It would have only taken a few seconds on social media -- since it appears impossible for Post political reporters to call traditional believers and talk to them -- to find out that people on that very public list are still standing firm in opposition to Trump and, of course, to Clinton.
So what is the surprising, newsworthy element of this story? Is it that Catholics on the doctrinal left are going to vote for Clinton or that traditional Catholics (and many in the middle) are not going to vote for Trump?
This is really crucial material, as the Post story notes:
... Catholics have long been a swing vote in presidential elections, and right now they’re swinging hard for Clinton.
It’s also hard to overstate just how significant Trump’s poor performance among Catholics is. That’s because they comprise about one-quarter of voters in the United States (25 percent in 2012 exit polls) and are about as big a voting bloc as non-whites (28 percent) and independents (29 percent).
While we often look at how Trump is doing worse than Romney among Hispanics, we’re really talking about the difference between Trump taking 45 percent of the vote and 46 percent -- or maybe 49.5 percent or 50.5 percent. That’s because Hispanics are only about 10 percent of the electorate, and the GOP’s share of that vote is likely to be between 20 and 35 percent or so.
When talking about Catholics, though, Trump is basically adding 5 to 7 percentage points to Clinton’s overall margin. If 25 percent of the electorate is Catholic, Clinton is currently taking 14 to 15 points worth of that chunk, while Trump is taking 8 or 8.5 points. And this is a group, again, that is usually close to tied.
Let me end by sharing, once again, that typology that a veteran D.C. priest gave me about a decade ago, during a discussion of Catholic voting patterns.
In the opinion of this elderly K Street priest there are at least four kinds of Catholic voters:
* Ex-Catholics. While most ex-Catholics are solid for the Democrats, the large percentage that has left to join conservative Protestant churches (perhaps even many Latinos) lean to GOP.
* Cultural Catholics who may go to church a few times a year. This may be an undecided voter ... depending on what is happening with the economy, foreign policy, etc. Leans to Democrats.
* Sunday-morning American Catholics. These voters are regulars in the pews and may even fill leadership roles in their parishes. These are the Catholic voters that are really up for grabs, the true swing voters that the candidates are after.
* The “sweats the details” Catholic who goes to Confession, is active in the full sacramental life of the parish and almost always backs the Vatican, when it comes to matters of faith and practice. This is where the GOP has made its big gains in recent decades, but this is a very, very small slice of the American Catholic pie.
In conclusion, it isn't all that interesting to note that Trump is not receiving support from Catholics he never had a chance to win.
So where is the story here? Correct. It's among the Catholic voters he has driven away.