In 2016, President Trump rode into the political world with a message of solace for the working class. He went to coal country and made promises to roll back the environmental red tape put in place by the last president.
And just like that a self-professed billionaire won over working class voters in states like West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
In 2016, President Trump also rode into the evangelical world and promised to make their every wish come true.
Pro-life? You got it.
Supreme Court nominee? No problem. (Maybe even two.)
Support for Israel. Done.
Suddenly, a thrice married man, whose face once graced the cover of Playboy, won 81 percent of the evangelical Christian vote.
For many leaders in the Democratic party, it isn’t about what President Trump did right, but what the party did wrong.
What happened to the ‘Big Tent’ and its tenants of acceptance and faith?
What happened to the beacon of hope for the working man; the purveyors of labor unions and worker’s rights?
Two years later, democratic leaders are still discussing what happened.
From the Working Class to the Elite
“When I was younger I never met a Republican, because everybody was a Democrat” said Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America.
“It’s been a hard time for people in our existence,” said Roberts of the coal miner’s in Appalachia.
Roberts along with several other democratic leaders recently spoke at a panel titled Faith and the Faithful of the Democratic Party hosted by Georgetown University.
And he’s right. The once heavily Democrat voting bloc made a turn in 2016.
“I did vote for Donald Trump,” one voter told NPR. “It’s really hard to even say that because I so dislike his rhetoric. But I voted for him on one singular issue, and that was coal.”
But it’s not just the promise of jobs, it’s the attitude.
“The Democratic Party is headed in a different direction…it now seems to be moving towards a coalition that is educated and cultural elites, singles and seculars and the continuing support of Latino and African American communities,” observed John Carr, the director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.
“Sometimes people make comments like they’re looking down their nose at us and at the same time ask us to vote for them,” said Roberts.
“How about proving you’re the party of workers instead of telling us you’re the party of workers?” Roberts charged.
“I worked hard for President Obama in 2008 and he did make a comment that was extremely painful, talked about us embracing our Bibles. I don’t see that as something wrong. I think it’s something to be complimented, not criticized,” said Roberts.
“And then talk about they like their guns, yes, we love to hunt in Appalachia,” he continued.
Roberts is referring to a 2008 comment from President Obama about Midwestern and small town workers. “It’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” Obama said at the time.
For many the damage was done, but despite Obama’s “guns and religion” comment and embrace of gay marriage, he still managed to win over voters.
Former Obama Faith Director, Michael Wear said by then he had built a repertoire of trust and many voters didn’t take it personally.
“You have to do the interviews with Christianity Today and America Magazine and go out to these communities,” said Wear.
He says it’s about consistency and trust, something missing in 2016.
“Democrats are always looking for a chance to declare God is dead, then they remember He is alive when they lose a couple of times at the ballot box,” said Wear.
Wear says the 2016 campaign sent a clear message to faith voters the party didn’t want their vote and faith voters heard it.
“What kind of a group looks at a nation that’s 70% Christian and runs the opposite way?” said Wear.
What Happens Now?
Roberts says let the candidate fit the voters not the party.
“I played a role in the Conor Lamb election. I think you have to have a candidate that speaks to the wishes of his constituency,” said Roberts.
Roberts encourages Democrats to reclaim the tenants that matter most to many Americans.
“Patriotism has been taken over by the Republican party and God has been taken over by the Republican party,” Roberts remarked.
He says Lamb embraced both and won.
Former Democratic Delegate Justin Giboney says it’s also important for pro-life and Christian democrats to speak up and make their voices heard.
This was the third event in a series hosted by Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.
The group held a similar event focused on the faith of the Republican Party that featured Rev. Johnnie Moore and Michael Gerson a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.