Where can American Catholics turn after the Trump ascendancy?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jul 22, 2016

“Donald Trump is manifestly unfit to be president of the United States.” So wrote a number of prominent scholars and journalists in An Appeal to Our Fellow Catholics, issued back in March. They made a strong case:

His campaign has already driven our politics down to new levels of vulgarity. His appeals to racial and ethnic fears and prejudice are offensive to any genuinely Catholic sensibility. He promised to order U.S. military personnel to torture terrorist suspects and to kill terrorists’ families — actions condemned by the Church and policies that would bring shame upon our country. And there is nothing in his campaign or his previous record that gives us grounds for confidence that he genuinely shares our commitments to the right to life, to religious freedom and the rights of conscience, to rebuilding the marriage culture, or to subsidiarity and the principle of limited constitutional government.

Before I go a step further, a few disclaimers:

  • I know and admire most of the people who signed this statement; many are old friends.
  • After years of very active involvement in politics at every level, culminating in my own quixotic campaign for a US Senate seat, I swore off campaigning; I concluded that reforming the Church is more urgent than reforming society, and in any case societal reform is unlikely in the absence of a strong and united Catholic presence.
  • So I have deliberately steered clear of political commentary this year. I do not intend to instruct readers on how they should vote.

Still I cannot avoid simple a observation about the problem with “An Appeal to Our Fellow Catholics.” Rounding to their conclusion, the signatories wrote: “We urge our fellow Catholics and all our fellow citizens to reject [Trump’s] candidacy for the Republican nomination by supporting a genuinely reformist candidate.” They wanted someone—almost anyone—other than Trump to emerge from the Republican primaries. No one did.

There were many attractive candidates for the Republican nomination, but no one managed to rally the support needed to stop the Trump tsunami; no candidate stood out as the other major contestant.

Something very similar happened to the GOP four years ago. For months, the 2012 Republican presidential primaries looked like a series of auditions, in which one candidate after another sought to become the alternative to Mitt Romney. But nobody emerged. There’s an old political axiom: You can’t beat somebody with nobody. So Romney became the GOP presidential candidate, despite a manifest lack of public enthusiasm. Then as now, the most active members of the Republican Party failed to unite behind a candidate they considered more attractive.

I confess that I was caught off-guard by the Trump phenomenon. (In that respect I am like most of the analysts who write about politics for their living. I am unlike them in that I readily admit my bafflement.) But the GOP’s inability—twice running, now—to produce a “genuinely reformist candidate” for the presidency prompts some important questions: Who is in control of the Republican Party? If the voters have rejected the party’s leaders, who’s in charge? What do they stand for? What is the future of the GOP—either during a Trump presidency, or after a Trump loss?

If you are a Republican, and you disapprove of the Trump nomination, ask yourself why the party’s nominating process could not produce a more desirable candidate, and how that might change in future years.

If you are a Catholic, and you wonder why the GOP does not produce candidates who unequivocally promote the culture of life, ask yourself whether today’s Republican Party is the right vehicle on which to place your political hopes.

If you are a loyal Catholic and a loyal Republican, ask yourself whether you will be welcome in the GOP of 2017 and beyond. And if the answer is No, where else will you turn? You may conclude, as I did, that your energies would be better invested trying to reform the Catholic community now, and hoping that a reinvigorated Catholic presence can then usher in effective reform on the American political scene.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 11 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Louise01 - Aug. 12, 2016 11:09 PM ET USA

    Absolutely the Catholic community needs reforming and not only the clergy. Catholics are so ignorant and self-centered in their decisions on voting. What? Vote for the non-negotiable issues...not important to me! My pastor has more than once urged we pray for the conversion of America similar to the past when we were praying for the conversion of Russia.

  • Posted by: nix898049 - Jul. 26, 2016 1:32 PM ET USA

    All good comments! For myself, I find I agree with Phil. We need a reformed/reinvigorated Catholic presence. Then we may be blessed with leaders who are the country's good servants but God's first.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Jul. 25, 2016 1:55 PM ET USA

    "If you are a Catholic, and you wonder why the GOP does not produce candidates who unequivocally promote the culture of life, ask yourself whether today’s Republican Party is the right vehicle on which to place your political hopes." For this reason, I have not contributed to the GOP for the past two years, and make individual candidate and PAC contributions. Eventually, the GOP will go bankrupt and the slurpers will look for greener pastures.

  • Posted by: phineas - Jul. 23, 2016 5:58 PM ET USA

    "2016 Republican Party platform hailed as most pro-life, pro-family ever" in Lifesite News. Opposes Common Core. Opposes secular tyranny of globalistic movement. Favors 1st Amendment protection. Opposes onslaught of Muslim Brotherhood and jihad. "...whether you will be welcome in the GOP of 2017" is an odd question to ask. This grassroots movement is OUR movement, too!

  • Posted by: feedback - Jul. 23, 2016 2:06 AM ET USA

    The authors of the appeal don't think much of their fellow Catholics is they assume that they value Trump's candidacy for "His appeals to racial and ethnic fears and prejudice." The Catholic supporters that I know, value Trump primarily for his honesty.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Jul. 22, 2016 11:50 PM ET USA

    I suggest that we pray that God use Trump to write straight with crooked lines, as he has done before.

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Jul. 22, 2016 10:36 PM ET USA

    Perhaps you still don't get it. I am Catholic and Republican and sick and tired of the GOP leadership both in House and Senate. I believe Trump will clean up the lying mess. Thanks for all your work but on this your only choice is Hillary. GOD help us.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jul. 22, 2016 9:56 PM ET USA

    Some believe a Clinton presidency will do enduring harm that might not be reversible. The Trump phenomenon is a collective groan from very deep. It's also a reality check. A priest once said we receive the leaders we deserve. Disturbing as our reality is, is it undeserved? Were not Catholics- about 52%-pivotal in electing Obama? Where are the prelates? Who are the political confreres of Pope Francis seen in the photo ops? The reform might well be "squeezed" out of us as in a wine press.

  • Posted by: Archpriest - Jul. 22, 2016 6:18 PM ET USA

    May I point out that the Republican VP candidate is himself a former Catholic turned evangelical Protestant. Governor Katich is a former Byzantine Catholic turned to an evangelical Anglican group. As a priest I am increasingly seeing "former Catholics" who have turned elsewhere for spiritual fatherhood and leadership. While many of our bishops are good and holy men, as a group they are increasingly seen as out-of-touch, "clueless" and liberal political meddlers.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jul. 22, 2016 6:17 PM ET USA

    I quit the GOP about 15 years ago when I realized it is staffed by politicians, not statesmen. I decided to support Trump in June 2015 after watching his performance in most of the debates. He was far and away the better candidate, standing with the Church on positions the other candidates would not touch, e.g.: the two-state solution in Palestine, willingness to negotiate with Putin and Kim Jong-un, his opposition to caretaking of illegals in prisons, his economic and foreign affairs reforms.

  • Posted by: BobJ70777069 - Jul. 22, 2016 6:03 PM ET USA

    Granted Trump has been, to say the least, no gentleman, his avowals of conversion to a pro-life position is to be preferred to HRC s strident support for abortion and every immoral, degenerate, perverted, and anti-Christian idea I can think of. Aren't we taught to vote for the candidate who is likely to do the least harm?