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Catholics and the future of American politics

  • 12 November 2020
Donald Trump shocked the world with his upset victory in the 2016 US presidential election. And his victory instantly transformed American politics and the Republican Party. Upon taking office, the Trump administration swiftly pursued its agenda of plutocratic economic policies, populist nationalist immigration and foreign policies, and conservative social policies.

Trump changed the coalition crafted by President Ronald Reagan in 1980 and led American conservativism and the Republican Party down an alternative path. This rise of populist nationalism — an ‘America First’ skepticism toward international trade, immigration, and the promotion of democracy and human rights abroad — was a sharp break from decades of Republican commitments, stretching all the way back to Dwight Eisenhower’s primary victory in the 1952 presidential election.

This was not the only precedent-shattering aspect of Donald Trump’s presidency. His attacks on the media, the judiciary and American intelligence services are unique in American history. His affinity for dictators, indifference to Russian interference in the 2016 election, withholding of aid to Ukraine to damage his 2020 opponent and repeated unfounded claims about illegal voting have altered perceptions about the strength and durability of American democratic norms and institutions.

But Donald Trump lost. Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States. Now the question is: will the Republican Party revert back to its pre-Trump days, continue down the path of Trumpian populism, or seek an alternative to both? No matter which path is pursued, American Catholics will likely play a key role in shaping the party’s future direction.

While the 2020 election was unusual in many ways, some key dynamics from past elections continued to play similar roles. This is true of the Catholic vote. American Catholics are divided in their political orientations and loyalties. The Catholic vote is closely contested in nearly every presidential election — seen by many as a decisive factor in who will win the highest office in the land.

Both presidential campaigns sought to increase their share of the Catholic vote. Joseph Biden, who will become the second Catholic President of the United States, spoke freely and frequently about his faith. He also put together a strong faith outreach team that skillfully targeted different religious groups, including Catholics. 

'The real mystery is over the future of the Republican Party. Will alt-Catholicism collapse without a president that affirms its illiberal, antidemocratic impulses? Will it find a new leader to champion its ideas?'