Victor Gaetan is a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Register, focusing on international issues. He also writes for Foreign Affairs magazine, The American Spectator and the Washington Examiner. He contributed to Catholic News Service for several years. The Catholic Press Association of North America has given his articles four first place awards, including Individual Excellence, over the last five years. Gaetan received a license (B.A.) in Ottoman and Byzantine Studies from Sorbonne University in Paris, an M.A. from the Fletcher School of International Law and Diplomacy, and a Ph.D. in Ideology in Literature from Tufts University.
In Michigan’s final count, announced last week, Donald J. Trump won by a mere 10,704 votes. The key difference came from Detroit’s northeast suburbs, especially Macomb County, as noted by local media.
Macomb County voters favored President Obama in 2008 by 8% and in 2012 by 4% but flipped the county for Trump a dramatic 12%: 54%-42% and voter turnout was higher than in years past.
The voters in this county aren’t blue collar, but professionals.
Of Michigan’s five largest counties, Macomb experienced the most population growth since 2000, and many of the new citizens are Chaldean Catholics from Iraq.
The metropolitan Detroit area has the world’s largest Iraqi population outside Iraq: more than 121,000 people.
“I have never seen the enthusiasm we had this year to go out and vote,” said Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce. “Our community voted like it never has.”
Manna observed that Chaldean Americans tend to be a conservative, pro-life group and “many issues motivated people, but especially what is happening to Christians in Iraq and Syria because we have loved ones in the area.”
Manna described the frustration of most Chaldeans: Despite a congressional resolution calling the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East genocide, the current Administration did little to assist them.
Nor did the Obama Administration act on another priority Chaldean, Assyrian, and Syriac Christians from Iraq: creation of a new province for persecuted minorities in the Nineveh Plain.
One of President-elect Trump’s lead advisers on the Middle East, Walid Phares, is said to support a safe haven for Christians, Yazidis, and others.
Russia as Ally
Fr. Paul O'Callaghan is pastor of St George Orthodox Cathedral in Wichita, Kansas, a church founded 100 years ago by immigrants from Lebanon. The community has been active regarding the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
Although his congregation reflected diverse opinions on the presidential election, Fr. O’Callaghan said two issues in particular influenced many parishioners to consider Donald Trump the better candidate: Middle East policy and abortion.
“Hillary Clinton was unnecessarily provocative with the Russian president in terms of protecting Christian communities,” said the pastor.
“Many of us look at Russia’s historical role as protectors” as a benefit he explained.
Fr. O’Callaghan gave Mhardeh, Syria, a major Christian city, as an example: “Mhardeh has been under threat from the Free Syrian Army and al-Nusra, and the community is saying, ‘Why are you, the U.S., supporting people who want to kill us, and the Russians are defending us?’”
St George’s is located in a congressional district represented by Rep. Mike Pompeo, selected by President-elect Trump to lead the CIA.
Fr. O’Callaghan observed, “He’s been tremendously supportive of the U.S. being a protective force for Christians in the Middle East.” Rep. Pompeo is a Presbyterian.
The other issue that catalyzed Orthodox parishioners was abortion: “A lot of people told me how appalled they were regarding Hillary Clinton’s advocacy for third- trimester abortion. There was a lot of strong feeling about that.”
Strong feeling on Hillary Clinton’s abortion extremism is what the Susan B Anthony List (SBA List) leveraged in its strategy to target pro-life voters in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina plus Missouri. Together, the four states gave Donald Trump 72 electoral votes. (Add Michigan’s 16 electoral votes, where the Iraqi Chaldeans made a difference, and Trump got a total of 88 electoral votes with critical Catholic input.)
SBA List knocked on over 1.1 million pro-life doors according to Mallory Quigley, 30, the group’s communications director, who said, “We also talked to persuadable Democrats and Independents—folks we knew were pro-life, who we thought could be convinced to vote pro-life if they understood Hillary Clinton’s extreme pro-abortion position.”
SBA List spent $18 million over two years—and won all its targets—while major pro-abortion political action committees doubled that: EMILY’s List spent over $40 million, for example.
Quigley, who attended Loyola College in Baltimore, said she observed the Catholic vote gravitate to Donald Trump over the campaign’s last months.
“The Catholic vote did go to Mr. Trump but that wasn’t guaranteed. Catholic voters had concerns about him… but Donald Trump’s commitment to pro-life issues only got stronger through the campaign,” she observed.
September marked a turning point in the Trump campaign’s focus on Catholic voters, beginning with a short ad marking Mother Teresa’s canonization on September 3.
Trump made four key pro-life commitments in mid-September: to end abortion after five months, to appoint a pro-life Supreme Court, to defund Planned Parenthood, and to protect the Hyde amendment. He also appointed SBA List founder, Marjorie Dannenfelser to lead a pro-life campaign coalition.
In October a major red flag for Catholic voters emerged: the WikiLeaks revelation that Clinton’s inner circle considered the Catholic Church “severely backwards” and that Clinton campaign manager John Podesta had created Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good as fronts to undermine Catholic teaching (with the help of George Soros’ money).
In the end, it all came together.
“On Election Day, the #1 search term related to both candidates was abortion,” said Quigley.