The always thought-provoking Deal Hudson is provoking thought this week on the subject of Hillary Clinton and Catholics. He wonders who is to blame if Hillary collects the Catholic vote next year:
“If Giuliani and Clinton are the nominees, then Hillary Clinton will certainly win the Catholic vote in 2008.” This is the opinion of a chief strategist behind George W. Bush’s success with Catholic voters in 2000 and 2004.
Steve Wagner, president of QEV Analytics in Washington, D.C., isn’t happy in reaching this conclusion. “Hillary Clinton, in spite of her pro-abortion position, will present a vigorous social justice agenda that will fill the void created by the GOP candidates.”
For Wagner, none of the major Republican contenders has any special appeal to the Catholic voter.
In a November 1998 article in Crisis Magazine, Wagner demonstrated that reaching out to Mass-attending Catholics was the key to winning their vote. This basic insight became the bedrock of President Bush’s Catholic outreach in 2000 and 2004.
Wagner sees Catholics being on the “sideline” during the GOP primaries: “They will split along the lines of voters as a whole.”
I asked him whether it’s too late for a candidate to appeal directly to Catholic voters during the primaries. “Someone like Fred Thompson could announce his choice of vice president the way Ronald Reagan did in 1976 — the right running mate could galvanize Catholic voters and other people of faith.”
Then I asked him whether Rudy Giuliani has a natural affinity with Catholic voters. Wagner pointed to the example of John Kerry. “Kerry was punished for being a pro-abortion Catholic. Giuliani is wise not to talk about being a Catholic, or he will suffer the same fate.”
In other words, Giuliani’s ethnic identity as a Catholic will not help him very much, and it may hurt him with religiously-active Catholics.
Wagner believes Catholic voters are disappointed in the GOP, which makes them open to responding to the social justice agenda of the likely Democratic nominee, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Her message of helping the poor and those in need, in spite of her pro-abortion position, will be quite potent to Catholics when the GOP has nothing else to offer.”
Clinton’s social justice message will bring Catholic voters in her direction the way “compassionate conservatism” worked for Bush in 2000.
Wagner explains, “The Catholic discontent with Bush and the Republican Party is not about Iraq, or he would have lost their vote in 2004. It’s about their failure to deliver on the promises they made to address the moral decline of our society. Iraq and 9/11 distracted the president and the party from addressing the core concerns of Catholics and other people of faith.”
There’s more at the link, but you get the drift. I’m not sure I entirely agree with the whole thing — I do think, for example, that a fair amount of Catholic discontent with Bush and the GOP is about Iraq — but he makes some compelling points. And he concludes that both parties will share the blame if Hillary wins the Catholic vote.
On that, I think, he’s only partially correct.
He neglects to mention a third party that will be responsible as well: the Catholic Church in America.