A year and a half ago, Donald Trump held a press conference in New York City and announced that he was running for president. The media reaction was a combination of laughs, mockery and bemusement. The laughing only grew louder when it was learned that many of the Trump supporters at the announcement were hired for the event.
The hilarity trailed off as Trump began making campaign appearances around the country and started attracting what the establishment political and media class saw were shockingly large crowds. Media attention focused on Trump over his 16 rivals in the GOP by margins of four and five to one. Over the next months, he systematically destroyed his primary rivals with a combination of brutal semantics, often crude putdowns and a cunning ability to rely on his opponents to destroy themselves as they tried to grapple with so unorthodox and unprecedented a foe.
What virtually all of the GOP candidates, the political ruling class and the media missed in the primary and then the general election was that Trump — like Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side — had grasped that a movement was afoot. Much as Brexit was utterly missed by a myopic and aloof ruling class, so too was the mood and angst of much of America beyond the apparent ken of many who consider themselves the smartest and the brightest with a right to rule.
Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States in a literally unexpected fashion, reaching the needed 270 electoral votes by demolishing the vaunted “Blue Wall” that had been all but impenetrable for the last six election cycles. The Midwest, the Rust Belt, collapsed as reliable bastions for the Democratic Party, and the wall — seemingly bigger and more unassailable than the one Trump has pledged to build on the border — fell before an electorate that was determined to bring radical change to a system that has made them feel left out, ignored and over-regulated.
Elections are always about numbers. Trump won tens of millions of votes, but the number that matters the most in many ways is 94. There are 94 million Americans currently out of the workforce, the lowest participation rate in the U.S. economy in 38 years.
This was just one statistic. There were others — flat income, rising health care costs and even a dwindling life expectancy among white males. All of these coalesced in the 2016 election and allowed Trump to tap into the currents of a movement that has precious few parallels in American history.
But in the end, the victory of Donald Trump as president was both a rejection of Hillary Clinton and a personal achievement for the billionaire political neophyte who made the entire campaign about him. He managed to survive scandals that would have crippled any other candidate, his own lack of discipline and what many openly called a narcissistic personality to become in the last few weeks a fierce campaigner in states that logic said were out of reach.
And then there is a vital component to his victory that will be the source of study and great interest to sociologists, political scientists and pundits. The next days will allow for careful study of the numbers, but the exit polls found initially that Trump may have carried the largest evangelical vote in history and a majority of the Catholic vote.
Throughout the primary campaign, Trump rarely spoke to faith voters. This changed with the convention in Cleveland, when he spoke directly to evangelicals in his nomination acceptance speech. And then he began reaching out, some argued most belatedly, to Catholics and faith voters across the country. His plea to Catholics was the fruit of Catholic advisers who joined his campaign, but it included something also commonly missed by most in the secular media. Trump not only extended his hand to Catholics; he made a direct appeal to pro-life voters.
In the third debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump spoke with searing clarity about late-term abortions and memorably exposed Clinton as a truly militant supporter of abortion in a way that many Americans may not have fully realized. Only a few weeks before, Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, gave one of the most eloquent and poignant defenses of the unborn ever proclaimed on the grand stage of American politics during his debate with Sen. Tim Kaine.
Did pro-life Catholics help win the election for Donald Trump? While they could not claim exclusive credit, they certainly played their part in an election that was hanging in the balance until Election Day.
And so, a political revolution has unfolded across the nation. Where do we go from here?
There will be weeks ahead to assess a Trump presidency and all of its ramifications and possibilities for the Supreme Court, Obamacare and the HHS mandate, making Planned Parenthood at long last accountable for its actions and dismantling the pro-abortion agenda of the Obama era. But if Catholics need a starting point for rumination, we do well to re-read Trump’s letter to Catholics:
I have a message for Catholics: I will be there for you. I will stand with you. I will fight for you. As first lady, U.S. senator, secretary of state and two-time presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton has been hostile to the core issues and policies of greatest concern to Catholics: life, religious liberty, Supreme Court nominations, affordable and quality health care, educational choice and home schooling. For instance, Hillary Clinton supports forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor who have taken care of the elderly poor since 1839, pay for contraceptives in their health care plan (even though they have never wanted them, never used them and never will), and having the government fine them heavily if they continue to refuse to abide by this onerous mandate. That is a hostility to religious liberty you will never see in a Trump administration.
On life, I am, and will remain, pro-life. I will defend your religious liberties and the right to fully and freely practice your religion, as individuals, business owners and academic institutions. I will make absolutely certain religious orders like the Little Sisters of Poor are not bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs. I will protect and work to expand educational choice, the rights of home-schooling families and end Common Core. I will repeal and replace Obamacare so you can have better and more affordable health care. I will keep our country and communities safe while respecting the dignity of each human being. I will help Catholic families and workers, and all families and workers, by bringing jobs back to our country where they belong. And I will appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will strictly interpret the Constitution and not legislate from the bench, like Justice Clarence Thomas and the late and beloved great Catholic thinker and jurist, Justice Antonin Scalia.
Let us pray for our new president and our divided country. And let us hope that the new commander in chief might embrace the suggestion of the observation of Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America. “Liberty,” he wrote, “cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”