Defeat and Disaster if McCain Picks a Pro-Choice Catholic

If John McCain picks a pro-abortion running mate, he’s likely to lose. If he picks a pro-abortion Catholic as his running mate, he will definitely lose.

Right now McCain is skating on the thinnest of ice. At best, the election is tied. In many polls, he is 4-5 points down. He has yet to crack 45 percent in any national poll and is behind in key states. At worst, he is facing a blowout. Now is not the time to pussyfoot around with a guy like Tom Ridge.

The calculation is clear. McCain figures Ridge could deliver the key state of Pennsylvania. Let’s look at the record. Ridge won statewide office in 1994 with only 45 percent of the vote. Why so low? Because he faced a third party pro-life challenger named Peg Lustig who polled a whopping 12 percent of the vote. Ridge ran again in 1998 and won with the much greater margin of 57 percent, but he did so against a very weak Democratic opponent and he forfeited 10 percent to pro-life Lustig, who ran again. That Ridge, now, ten years later, could help McCain win Pennsylvania is far from certain. And then there is what McCain loses elsewhere for picking Ridge.

McCain is already suspect among social conservatives. And picking a pro-choicer will have the further effect of cooling whatever ardor he has been able to gin up among them mostly because of the fear of Obama. Social conservatives are largely not for McCain, they are against Obama. A lack of enthusiasm among McCain supporters could spell disaster for him come Election Day.

There is already a major effort underway to lure pro-lifers into the Democratic column. The Democratic platform makes nice noises about motherhood and adoption. And evangelicals are getting restless to get involved in other issues. The McCain camp should not give them yet one more reason to drift.

And then there is the Catholic thing. At the moment, McCain can expect at least tepid support among faithful Catholics, those who go to Mass at least once a week and who support the teachings of the Church on core issues like abortion. He needs this group to win the election. He is putting them in an untenable position if he decides to pick Ridge – or any pro-choicer, but especially a pro-choice Catholic. Tom Ridge is a public dissenter from one of the core teachings of the Catholic Church, that innocent human life must always be protected and may never be deliberately taken. McCain is asking faithful Catholics to pull the lever for someone whose position on abortion makes them sick to their stomachs.

A prediction: if McCain goes ahead with Ridge, it will lead to a public spectacle. Wasn’t McCain paying attention four years ago when another publicly dissenting Catholic ran for president? John Kerry lost the generic Catholic vote, that is, any person who claims to be a Catholic, whether he or she has not been to Mass in thirty years or even marginally agrees with the teachings of the Church. This is an easy get for the Democrats, yet Kerry lost them. With the exception of his home state of Massachusetts, he even lost them in the states he won. Kerry and Communion became a staple of the public debate. For the first time ever, the Eucharist was front and center in a national political campaign. There is no doubt this would happen again, perhaps this time with even greater controversy.

McCain would face the dead certainty that his vice-presidential running mate could not speak in front of official Catholic audiences or at Catholic institutions because this is forbidden by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 1998, Ridge was told by his hometown bishop, Donald Trautman of the Diocese of Erie, that he could not speak on church property. In this year’s presidential race, Ridge would be told by bishops around the country not to present himself for Communion. This would become a recurrent nightmare for the McCain campaign week after week after week. Is that a winning message for McCain?

Finally, McCain is asking Republicans to accept a man who, if he wins, would likely be the presumptive presidential nominee sometime in the future. This would effectively turn the Republicans away from being the pro-life party and would spell electoral disaster for Republicans for years to come. Pro-lifers certainly would have a very hard time voting for a pro-choicer at the top of the national ticket. Look at what happened to Rudy Giuliani in the primaries. And they certainly would never support a publicly dissenting Catholic. The way of Ridge is the way of both defeat and disaster.


Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.