Catholics: Obama Beats GOP

Wax figures of Pope Benedict XVI with Bush and Obama at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum's' Oval Office in Washington.
Wax figures of Pope Benedict XVI with Bush and Obama at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum's' Oval Office in Washington. (photo: REUTERS/Jeff Snyder/Handout)

We already reported on Deal Hudson’s comments on Miguel Diaz, the nominee for U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

Hudson, who served as director of Catholic outreach for George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns, has now weighed in on President Obama’s Catholic outreach in this interview on Dan Gilgoff’s “God & Country” blog on the U.S. News and World Report website.

Commenting on Obama’s meeting with Pope Benedict, Hudson (who was with President Bush for his first meeting with Pope John Paul II in 2001) was blunt: “It was misleading of the president to speak to the Holy Father about committing to abortion reduction when he knew the healthcare bill would include funding for abortion services and when he was on the record for supporting federal funding for abortions in the District of Columbia. I think those two things taken together will make his promise to the Holy Father a political mistake that will come back to haunt him when it’s held up to scrutiny down the road.”

When asked about Obama’s Catholic outreach, Hudson talked about the administration’s pro-choice Catholic nominees, ending with: “They have thought carefully about how they are going to offset the expected criticism of these pro-choice Catholic nominees by having stories ready that they know will appeal to Catholics and blunt criticism from the pro-life side.”

And in terms of the Republican Party’s Catholic outreach, there is no mistaking Hudson’s view: “What is it that the Republicans have offered Catholics to rally behind that can compete with Obama’s meeting the Holy Father or even the Notre Dame speech? Nothing. The one chance they had was the Sotomayor hearings, and the best we heard was from some evangelical senators. The Catholic leadership of the Republican Party is laying low, with the exception of [New Jersey Congressman] Chris Smith.”

Hudson compared John Kerry’s Catholic outreach campaign strategy with Obama’s. He noted that Kerry’s had “an undertone of we’re on the side of the dissenters.”

But Obama’s advisers, Hudson noted, “realized that the kind of Catholics who’d voted for Bush were not the kind of Catholics who are moved by invocations of American dissent on contraception, reminders of the sex abuse scandal, and this whole plethora of smart-alecky talk about the Catholic Church in America.” So Obama, following Bush, took “an attitude that we know what the Vatican thinks, and we’re going to go as far as we can with that. It’s an undertone of respect.”

In terms of expectations for Obama’s so-called “common ground” strategy on abortion, Hudson said: “Every time the Obama team has planned some sort of initiative on his behalf, it has come off pretty well. The exception would be the Notre Dame speech, which cost him. One thing we learned through the Catholic Voter Project at Crisis [a Catholic magazine Hudson published] is that Catholics don’t like a lot of confrontational and aggressive speechmaking in politics. They like messages like ‘common ground’ and ‘partial agreement’ and ‘working together’ and ‘nonpartisan.’

“They don’t like the old evangelical, more stringent-type message. Actually, common ground has its own resonance with the official Catholic community because it comes from Cardinal [Joseph] Bernardin. So the plan is going to be one more finger in the dike of the eventual realization that the president misled the Holy Father. The policy itself is the funding of abortion, the appointment of pro-choice Catholics, and the repealing of the Mexico City Policy, and that’s the narrative people need to pay attention to.”

We will be paying attention — and keeping you informed.