I had the great fortune to go to President Trump’s Inauguration and be witness to that historic event. Standing amongst the sea of humanity looking on, I could not help reflect on what an unlikely set of events propelled this New York Real Estate, Reality Show Mogul to the most powerful position in the world. As a practitioner in the world of politics, we always look back and see what events and coalitions propelled candidates to victory. In the military, they call it an after action report.
During my time in our nation’s Capital, I also shared some time with our Editor–in-Chief, Deal Hudson. Many of you know that the Catholic vote was key to Trump’s victory; while speaking to Deal I recalled that law professor and Trump speechwriter, Frank Buckley, in the New York Post credited Deal with his instrumental work in leveraging Catholics to the Trump Ticket. I also realized that much of what Deal wrote about in his must read book Onward Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (2008) was a factor in the Trump win. I recently read this important work and feel it is vital that we review and discern the lessons learned from the Trump Victory and the blueprint that Deal advanced in this book so that we can assure future victories.
Onward Christian Soldiers is more than an inside baseball account of politics but a mixture of social sciences, philosophy and bare-knuckled politics. Before reading Deal’s book, my favorite book on matters regarding the culture wars was Ramesh Ponnuru’s The Party of Death, which chronicled the devolution of the Democratic Party into being America’s abortion on demand party. Deal’s book is more exhaustive and gives a more critical bird’s eye look into the birth of the religious right that early on was populated by Evangelicals upset with the religious hostility of the Carter Administration. One of the most fascinating parts of the book for me was that it revealed that two Catholics, Paul Weyrich and Phyllis Schaffly were the progenitors of the movement. It is especially interesting because both groups held a bias against each other but more importantly a history of hostility that made this marriage almost miraculous.
Onward Christian Soldiers also chronicles Deal’s story of becoming the key cog in the Bush Administration’s outreach to Catholics. Expanding on his work that he did with his Catholic Voter Project at Crisis Magazine, Deal, relying on the research of Steve Wagner, figured out how to micro target conservative, orthodox Catholics who became one of the key coalitions to secure the presidency for George W. Bush. Mircotargeting is a much bandied term in the world of political campaigns but in this book it provides a fascinating look into how Karl Rove used Deal’s knowledge and expertise in the Catholic world to turnout to the polls people many refer to now as Value Voters.
Onward Christian Soldiers is an honest and sometimes unflattering look at some of the heroes and heroines of this movement. Deal does not even spare himself criticism in some of the “land mines” that he encountered when he undertook this effort to help elect a pro-family, pro-life President. He also shares some of the disappointments that members of the movement had for Ronald Reagan who was more of a symbolic hero than a politician the right could count on (see Justices O’Connor and Kennedy).
The book although published in 2008 is an important read because it possess a prophetic nature to it. Before, the Obama era, Deal warned that the so-called religious left would co-opt the language of the religious right because of the losses they suffered in the early 2000’s. In this way, the book presages the moves of then Senator Obama who ran for President vowing not to support so-called gay marriage and visiting with Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church.
Much of the coalition that Deal assisted Bush and Rove in constructing came back with a vengeance to help deliver the Catholic vote to President-elect Trump. It is funny how history repeats itself in that the Achilles heel of Hillary Clinton with the religious right was the same her husband had in the 90’s when Deal was starting to formulate this strategy of leveraging Conservative Catholics, namely partial birth abortion.
Onward Christian Soldiers is also timely because it provides a roadmap and way forward in the culture wars especially if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Trumps’ victory demonstrates that the Religious Right Coalition must be engaged and mobilized so that pro-life, pro-family victories can be secured in the future.
Lastly, the book is a personal story of Deal’s unlikely journey to the top of electoral politics facing the sling and arrows of the secularist left and those in his own Church for picking a side in the fight to keep American traditional values in place for his children and our children.
As I spoke with Deal in Washington, I sensed a man at peace and a happy warrior in the fight for the great causes of our time. Deal’s valiant fight for the unborn and traditional values reminds me of the famous quote by Teddy Roosevelt in his speech entitled “Citizenship in a Republic”:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
*Editor’s note: When I received this column, I asked Jason to send it elsewhere, which he refused to do. Since I published Onward Christian Soldiers into a headwind of anti-Bush sentiment in 2008, it got minimal attention. It didn’t help that Publisher’s Weekly took the unprecedented step of publishing a column attacking me and the book before it was published. Thus, I am grateful that Jason Kippen has written an appreciative note of my book.