How times change. Just as Italians occupied the papacy forever until the arrival of Pope John Paul II, a Pole, followed by the German Benedict, so too has the Republican Party been the fiefdom of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs).
No Catholic has ever been the nominee of the Republican Party and the three presidential standard-bearers have all been on the Democratic side — Al Smith (1928), John F. Kennedy (1960) and John F. Kerry (2004).
Only Kennedy was successful at the general election — the one Catholic president.
However, in this year’s GOP (Grand Old Party) race, the three leading contenders are Mitt Romney (Mormon) and two Catholics — Rick Santorum, a lifelong one, and Newt Gingrich, a relatively recent convert to Rome whose lifestyle, particularly with multiple wives and mistresses, is reminiscent of that of Henry VIII.
While Romney was always a clear favourite to win comfortably the Republican primary in New Hampshire, after losing in Iowa by 34 votes to Santorum, it was the battleground of South Carolina (January 21) that was the most interesting, particularly as this is also a state dominated by mainline Evangelicals.
The state that in 1861 seceded first and fired on Fort Sumter to start the Civil War, has produced a surprise result with the victory of Newt Gingrich.
British historian Tim Stanley sees the rise of the non-WASPs as a reaction to instability within several Protestant denominations, particularly on faith and morals. The Quakers, Methodists and Episcopalians have all embraced gay rights to varying degrees, with the latter even appointing lesbian and homosexual bishops.
As Stanley notes, what is progressivism to some is betrayal to others. It is the Catholic Church, southern Baptists and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the so-called Mormons) that remain as the bulwark against the attack on traditional marriage and it was the last group that provided the money, manpower and intellectual clout to have same-sex marriage banned in California and two other states in January 2009, by the most democratic method of all — citizens-initiated referenda (CIR).
That move ensured the undying enmity of the militant homosexual lobby whose idea of democracy is to shout down and traduce all those with opinions counter to theirs. Thus, the GOP electorate has turned to Santorum, Gingrich and Romney and away from the traditional WASP roots of the party and the Great Republic — originally formed from British colonies led by the cream of the Old World’s Protestant dissenters.
Santorum has clearly been the most consistent when it comes to social conservatism, while Romney is a latter-day convert (pardon the pun) to certain social issues such as being pro-life. So was Ronald Reagan, now a GOP icon.
None of these candidates will accept homosexual marriage as being on a par with traditional marriage, as Romney made clear to a gay Vietnam War veteran in a New Hampshire diner.
The only WASP candidate making some impact at the moment is Ron Paul, a 76-year-old Texas congressman who has his own libertarian constituency. Paul’s weakness is in foreign policy, where he is essentially a throw-back to the 1930s isolationist policies of withdrawing the US from world affairs.
He will stay in the race for a while — even to the end, maybe, unlike Jon Huntsman, another Mormon, and Rick Perry, the hapless Texas governor, whose accusation that Romney was engaging in “vulture capitalism” sounded like a line from the Occupy Wall Street mob, rather than something worthy of a GOP governor. It simply enraged the party faithful.
John Elsegood is a Perth freelance journalist and a teacher of history and politics.