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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Romney Wins Catholic Vote in Michigan

In the Michigan primary tonight, the exit poll showed that Catholics made up 30 percent of the electorate.  By a 44-37 percent margin, they favored Mitt Romney over Rick Santorum -- even though Santorum is Catholic.  There are probably multiple reasons for this outcome, but perhaps a comment by Santorum may have alienated his coreligionists.

At ABC, George Stephanopoulos reports on his Sunday interview with Santorum:
GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said today that watching John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Baptist ministers in Houston in 1960 made him want to “throw up.”
“To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?” Santorum said.
“That makes me throw up and it should make every American who is seen from the president, someone who is now trying to tell people of faith that you will do what the government says, we are going to impose our values on you, not that you can’t come to the public square and argue against it, but now we’re going to turn around and say we’re going to impose our values from the government on people of faith, which of course is the next logical step when people of faith, at least according to John Kennedy, have no role in the public square,” he said.
To put it mildly, such remarks were politically imprudent. By more than a 2-1 margin, Republicans remember JFK favorably.  Despite revelations about JFK's personal conduct, they have positive memories of his assertive policies on national security and his support for tax cuts.  The ratio is probably even greater among Catholic Republicans.  

Moreover, Santorum could have made the same point without criticizing Kennedy.  Indeed, it would have been clever to quote Barack Obama's 2006 speech on religion and politics:
But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.