Some conservatives like to paint the Democratic Party as being hostile to religion. And Republican House candidate Rick Saccone, who appears to have narrowly lost his race Tuesday in Pennsylvania's 18th District, is one of the latest to do so.
Saccone, a state representative, is not new to religious issues. Pennsylvania public school districts would be required to post “In God We Trust” in every school building under legislation sponsored by Saccone.
Saccone's bill passed the state House Education Committee on Wednesday by a 14-to-9 vote, with only one Democrat and one Republican crossing party lines. Saccone, a Baptist, previously sponsored a “day of prayer” resolution in the House to create “National Fast Day.”
With Donald Trump Jr. by his side at a firehouse the night before the election, Saccone said:
“I’ve talked to so many of these on the left. And they have a hatred for our president. And I tell you, many of them have a hatred for our country. ... I’ll tell you some more — my wife and I saw it again today: They have a hatred for God. It’s amazing. You see it when I’m talking to them. It’s disturbing to me.”
The characterization of leftists as hostile to faith obviously didn't start with Saccone but has existed for years. Televangelist Pat Robertson, a Christian Right pioneer, famously said:
“Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians. It’s no different. It is the same thing. It is happening all over again. It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-based media and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians.”
Christian conservatives accused the Democratic Party of undermining faith when it initially removed the word “God” from the 2012 Democratic national platform. But a campaign official for Barack Obama said the president personally requested “God” be put back into the platform.
Support for God's inclusion in the Democratic Party's platform from Obama and myriad others who disagreed with its removal indicated how inaccurate the characterization by Saccone and like-minded conservatives is.
According to the Pew Research Center, self-identified atheists are more likely to be aligned with the Democratic Party and with political liberalism. Nearly 7 in 10 — 69 percent — of atheists are Democrats or Democrat-leaning, and more than half — 56 percent — call themselves political liberals.
But Saccone's generalized comments — that the left hates God — are no more true than the idea that the right, the party that most white evangelicals align with, loves God. And continuing to make sweeping generalizations about the lack of faith of those outside conservatism seems unlikely to help the GOP win votes.
Saccone's opponent, who seems to have won the election, is Conor Lamb, a Democrat who personally has conservative views on abortion. And Lamb points to the values of his Catholic family as a strong influence on his life.
That had resonance with many voters of faith, as did other issues Lamb championed. Despite abortion and marriage often being viewed as “faith-based” issues, primarily because of how prominently white evangelicals highlight them, many Americans bring their faith beliefs to other issues, like education, immigration and the economy.
It probably didn't help Saccone that Trump, the candidate of choice for most white evangelicals and white Catholics in 2016, is facing questions about his commitment to faith-based family values amid continued reports of adultery with an adult film star, a record-breaking number of lies and misstatements, and other actions and comments that make it more difficult for the Republican Party to argue that it alone is the party of ethics.
The Pennsylvania election — like the Alabama and Virginia ones before it — is another reminder that making generalizations about the values of political opponents could lead to more losses for the GOP.