(RNS) Everything is fair game in political campaigns — especially during a presidential cycle like the current one — and nothing disappears thanks to the elephantine memory of the Internet.
Which pretty much explains why this tweet from back in 2011 by Donald Trump’s campaign spokeswoman has suddenly started trending:
Just saw a commercial from Catholic Church stating that Catholic Church was started by Jesus. I bet they believe that too. #sad
— Katrina Pierson (@KatrinaPierson) December 18, 2011
And that explains why it has also started generating some pushback for the GOP front-runner just days before the Iowa caucuses and the crucial start of actual voting by actual voters, rather than prognosticating by pundits.
“No one makes a comment like this without harboring an animus against Catholicism,” the Catholic League’s William Donohue fumed in a press release on Monday (Jan. 25). “It would be instructive to learn more about Pierson’s thoughts on the subject. Perhaps she can share them with us.”
“In the meantime,” Donohue said, “Pierson needs to apologize to Catholics for making such a snide remark. We would also like to hear assurances from Donald Trump that he will not tolerate anti-Catholicism in his campaign.”
At last word, the Trump campaign wasn’t talking. Meanwhile, others weighed in:
— Deal W. Hudson (@DealwHudson) January 23, 2016
It’s not clear what commercial Pierson was referring to, and what her own religious background is.
She is — no surprise for someone representing Trump — known for her brash and often insulting comments, in interviews and on social media, many of them directed at Christians.
For instance, in a 2010 tweet cited by the Daily Caller Pierson said: “There are no such things as Christians. Just people who call themselves Christians. ha.”
Ha, indeed. But will Catholics have the last laugh on Trump?
Maybe not. None of Trump various outrageous statements have hurt his prospects, and indeed seem only to have enhanced his standing, at least with GOP primary voters, who are the ones who count at this point.
And while the focus of most pollsters is on white evangelical Christians who are driving the Republican bus, a poll from the Public Religion Research Institute in November showed that Trump was faring as well with Catholic Republicans as he was with other GOP voters and leaners:
Another factor that might diminish the impact of any Catholic outrage, should it begin to emerge, is that the crucial early primary states don’t have especially large or influential Catholic populations.
As Mark Gray, senior research associate for the Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown, noted in an analysis, Iowa is 18 percent Catholic, New Hampshire is 26 percent Catholic, and just 1 in 10 in South Carolina self-identifies as Catholic.
It’s certainly an odd situation when the spokeswoman of a leading presidential candidate could say such things about Catholics, and Christians, and not get canned on the spot. Perhaps this is the new normal — it’s Donald Trump’s campaign, we are just covering it.
Then again, the general election landscape could look much different for Trump. Catholics are a much bigger slice of the voting bloc, upwards of 20 percent, and — like other American voters — they are much less likely to take kindly to Trump’s antics, as this other PRRI graph shows:
(David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS)