Forget Mormonism; the real story in the Republican Party right now is the rise of the Catholics.
First, a pair of Catholics in Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum gave Mitt Romney a run for his money in the nominating contest, and now, four of the five politicians seen as most likely to join Romney on the ticket are Catholic as well.
Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) — four of the five most likely GOP VP choices, according to InTrade — are all Catholic, not to mention other people thought to be contenders, like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.).
In other words, most of the top contenders are Catholic.
It means that there’s a distinct chance that the 2012 Republican presidential ticket will not have a Protestant on it after decades of Protestants having a stranglehold on the party’s presidential nomination.
But the 2012 veepstakes aside, the rising crop of Catholic politicians in the Republican Party signals a couple other shifts.
Most of these politicians will be considered top potential presidential candidates down the line, meaning it’s quite possible the Republican Party will nominate its first-ever Catholic for president in the relatively near future.
The Catholic GOP candidate, until recently, was a rare thing. And Rudy Giuliani, Sam Brownback and Tommy Thompson didn’t exactly take a big step forward in the 2008 GOP presidential race.
Also, it signals an evolution for the party beyond the days of “Values Voters,” when social conservatives and evangelicals seemed to dominate the debate within the party and set the agenda.
Catholics (aside from Santorum) are known for being more moderate and may have had a harder time fitting into that Republican Party.
Today, though, it’s quite possible the party’s leading voices of the future will be distinctly Catholic.