Trump Supporters: Learn from Obama’s Mistakes


Remember when Obama won? He made key errors that Trump supporters would do well to learn from.

Obama believed his press releases.

Yes people wanted an “outsider” and thought Obama was one. Yes they wanted hope and change. So voters voted for a dynamic, young, black, history-making candidate. That was easy to do, for most people. (Though it was impossible to do for well-informed pro-lifers.)

But that wasn’t the only reason Obama won:

  • He also won because the economy had freshly tanked in an unprecedented way, with a Republican in the White House.
  • He won because the United States was in the long hard slog of an immensely unpopular Iraq war.
  • He won because no one was enthusiastic about John McCain.
  • He won because the media disparaged a woman mercilessly; painting Sarah Palin as a ridiculous figure through “gotcha” interviews and unfair portrayals.

But Obama made the mistake of ignoring all of that. Instead, he acted like the vote was simply a giant embrace by all of America for his agenda, and he was off to the races. By the time it was all over he had racked up trillions in debt, tried to force nuns to pay for contraception, kept all of us paying for the world’s largest abortion business, Planned Parenthood, and, eventually, began the kind of open borders policy that even Pope Francis disagrees with.

That misunderstanding by Democrats of the meaning of their win eventually cost Obama both houses of Congress, stopping his agenda (including a Supreme Court pick) in its tracks, and led to an election where Democrats got beat by Donald Trump.

We shouldn’t believe Trump’s press releases.

So, yes, Trump’s win is historic. We know it wasn’t a racist KKK “white-lash” because we have seen the numbers and we know that Trump was elected by the same people who voted for Obama twice.

But we shouldn’t assume that America has embraced Trump’s stance on issues important to Catholics, such as life and religious liberty.

He won in large part because he is a celebrity with huge name recognition who has spent years crafting a “loveable curmudgeon” personality that prides itself on a “You’re-fired!” assault on political correctness.

And remember what happened right before the election?

  • Trump won because Hillary’s FBI investigation was not only re-instated, but was tied to the sexting scandal of close associate Anthony Weiner.
  • … and, maybe just as importantly, Trump won because that investigation then got quickly curtailed, making the system really looked “rigged” in favor of the “super-delegate” candidate.
  • He won because Obamacare premiums skyrocketed, undermining a major premise of support for the Democratic candidate, right before the election.
  • Trump won because the Wikileaks emails embarrassed Hillary’s campaign week after week with one constituency after another, relentlessly.
  • He won because viral videos showed his opponent fainting and stumbling, suggesting a medical impediment to the rigors of the presidency.
  • Trump won because he ran against a deeply unpopular figure who deeply offended many over the Benghazi debacle.

All of this suppressed her turnout and stimulated Trump’s. It would be foolish for someone who beat a candidate in those circumstances to then assume that the election was mostly about his stance on trade policy.

It would be even more far-fetched to believe the election was a resounding show of support for Catholic social teachings. Trump has been called a “king of sleaze.” He is a reality-TV show star who is married to a former nude model (you can no longer let your kids do Internet searches of the First Lady for school reports, by the way) and has been a popular professional wrestling figure.

As Archbishop Charles Chaput put it at a Pope Francis Symposium Friday, “Many Catholics downplayed the problems with Trump to play up the pro-life and religious liberty. We dodged that bullet but there are a lot more bullets in that gun.”

Obama and his fans believed his hype and followed his own policy proscriptions, without building a successful coalition that would outlast him.

Trump, and his supporters, would do well to avoid making that mistake.

And for Catholics to simply watch Trump self-destruct in predictable ways does us no good. We need real change that lasts.

Let’s accept the election results with humility, pay attention to what comes next, and work extra hard to convince people that our policy positions are good for America.


Photo: Gage Skidmore, Flickr Creative Commons

The views expressed are the author’s alone.

The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.