Three states in the midwest that Hillary Clinton was counting on to carry her to victory in 2016 narrowly ended up in the Donald Trump column — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. If those three states had been won by Clinton, their 46 Electoral votes would have given her the presidency with slightly more than the necessary 270 needed to win.
The total vote margin for Donald Trump in all three of those states was only 107,000! He carried Michigan by 11,837. Wisconsin by 27,257. Pennsylvania by 68,236. The big question as 2020 looms is whether he can retain or expand those margins regardless of whom the Democrats pick as their standard-bearer. Democrats won Senate races in all three states in 2018 and knocked off Republican Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin as well, giving them hope that they can swing them back to blue in 2020.
Christian voters were a key component in Trump’s victory in those and other battleground states, like Ohio, Florida and Iowa. George Barna detailed the impact of the Christian vote in 2016 in his book The Day Christians Changed America. Groups like Lift the Vote, a non-profit focused on energizing and mobilizing Evangelical voters in key battleground states, played a significant role in generating higher voter turnout among the millions of Christian voters who had stayed home in recent cycles. Efforts to engage Christian voters will be equally, of not more, important as conservatives look to produce wins in 2020.
A particular segment of Christian voters, Catholics, especially white Catholic voters, were a deciding factor for Trump in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Arguably, support for Trump among Catholic voters was THE key to victory over Hillary Clinton.
Recent Democrat attacks on Brian Buescher, President Trump’s nominee for the U.S. District Court in Nebraska, will not help their outreach to Catholic voters. Buescher came under attack by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-California) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) for his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a highly-respected Catholic charitable organization.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who is planning a 2020 Presidential run, sees the dangers to her party posed by this sort of approach, and has warned that such religious bigotry will be soundly rejected by voters. But Harris and Hirono aren’t the only Democrats playing the anti-Christian card. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) criticized Trump’s pick for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Amy Coney Barrett, for the “dogma” of her faith. And Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) has also expressed anti-Christian bias towards Republican political nominees.
The highly visible and toxic approach of two new Muslim members of Congress, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) — who took to Twitter even before being sworn in to mock Vice President Pence’s Christian faith – and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), who’s anti-Trump, anti-Semitic comments gave Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a brief respite from the spotlight amplify the Democrat’s problems. The widening gap between Christians and Democratic Party will only become more apparent as the Democrat’s radical new voices become louder and more shrill.
The Trump reelection team has to relish the cards that Democrats are dealing to them in the critical battle for Catholic votes in rust-belt states. The fight to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court mobilized the Christian base that Trump needed to keep or expand the GOP Senate majority. The results of the Democrats overplaying their hand helped the Republican increase that majority from 51-49 to 53-47 in the midterm elections.
Another potentially apocalyptic confirmation debate over a replacement for the seriously ill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg may pave the way for Trump to secure even larger margins of support from Catholic voters critical to his reelection bid.
IF a vacancy arises on the Supreme Court in the coming year, there is speculation that Trump will choose Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his pick. Some believe that he opted for Kavanaugh over her in filling the Kennedy vacancy to hold her as a “pocket Ace” should another spot open. She has spectacular credentials, an amazing back story, and the youth that might give her a 40-year run on the high court. And she is a strong, committed Catholic. Even Democrats see the minefield that awaits those who oppose her. She would present the kind of fight that Trump would use to goad the Democrats into overplaying their hand and mobilizing the Catholic vote in battleground states. Votes he needs in order to guarantee Electoral victory.
Will a Ginsberg vacancy actually occur? Who knows. But even mere speculation lays the groundwork for a fight that smart Democrats know they should avoid, while Trump knows they won’t be able to help themselves. There are plenty of other strategic moves that Team Trump will make to secure the Catholic vote in 2020; but a fight over the religious faith of an extraordinary Supreme Court nominee will be at the top of their list.
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Steve Gill is the National Political Editor for Battleground State News and Co-Chair of Nashville, Tennessee based Lift the Vote.