Catholics at conservative conference say they will back Trump, with reservations

shutterstock 283689917 President Donal Trump campagning in New Hampshire. | Andrew Cline/Shutterstock

Catholics attending Mass at the Conservative Political Action Conference convention, held outside Washington, DC, this weekend, told CNA their decision to support President Donald Trump's bid for reelection is mostly because of his administration's record on abortion. 

CNA spoke to several people who attended one of the daily Masses offered during the event Feb. 26-29. 

Several said they could not consider voting for Democratic candidates because of the party's absolute support for abortion, even while some acknowledged that Trump himself once supported legal protection for abortion.

Javier Martin, an immigrant from Spain who now lives in New York, told CNA after Mass that while he does not agree with Trump on everything, the president's policies align most closely with his own views, as compared to the other candidates running. 

"Policy wise, it's much harder to vote for Democrats right now, if you felt the pro-life issue is important to you," said Martin. "That's just a non-starter on the Democrat's side right now." 

Martin said that he thinks that "Trump seems to be going in a better direction" than what other candidates are proposing. 

The annual conference is considered by many to be a reflection of the trends and topics of importance in populist conservative circles. While Trump was considered an outsider at the conference in the years before his presidential candidacy, the 2020 event had many of the trappings of a Trump campaign rally.  

Grace Dwyer and Lauren Pels are Catholic students who attended CPAC this year. They are both 17 and will be voting in their first presidential election this November. Both young women told CNA they plan to vote for Trump. 

Dwyer, who lives in the Washington area, told CNA that she was galvanized by seeing Trump speak at the 2020 March for Life, saying she found the event "really amazing." 

"I've been [to the March for Life] every year since I was two, and just having the president there this year was amazing," she said. 

Dwyer also appreciated hearing Vice President Mike Pence speak at CPAC, especially, she said, because he stressed the Republican Party's commitment to pro-life values, and invited disillusioned pro-life Democrats to join the Republican Party.

Being pro-life has "always been something big for me," Dwyer explained. 

Pels agreed with Dwyer, and she said that she, too, plans to vote for Trump because of his pro-life record.

"A big thing for me is that President Trump is pro-life, especially with how far the left has moved on abortion," said Pels, citing recent congressional debates over the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, a bill that would require medical care be given to a child who survives an abortion. 

Pels also said she approves of how Trump had "stopped giving aid to fund abortions in other countries," referring to the president's Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy. 

Pels acknowledged that while "some of [Trump's] past comments have been problematic and conflicted with Catholic beliefs," she said his actions as president have outweighed his past statements and behavior, "especially when you look at what the actions of the left would have been, which are absolutely egregious," Pels said. 

Another Mass attendee at CPAC cited the president's pro-life views as the reason she will be voting for him in November.

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Bernadette Repisky spoke to CNA after Mass at the conference on Thursday evening. Repinsky traveled to CPAC from the Philadelphia area, and she previously attended the conferences in 2012 and 2016. 

Repinksy told CNA that she "loves" Trump because of his pro-life views, and that she believes that "he's doing more for my country than any president has ever done in my lifetime, and I'm in my fifties."

Trump had previously supported the right to an abortion, something Repinksy said does not bother her. She also offered her view on criticisms of the president's moral character, which include allegations of sexual assault and harassment. 

"So he might've been a Democrat in his former life, might've been a playboy in his former life, but I don't judge him by that," she told CNA. "That's for God. I judge him by what he's doing right now and what he says he's going to do for us and for this country." 

"I stand behind him one hundred percent."

While every Catholic CNA spoke with at CPAC indicated plans to vote for Trump, even with reservations, nationwide polling shows that the Catholic vote in November is likely to be far more diverse. 

In the recent EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research poll, 46% of Catholics said that there was a "sure" or "good" chance they would vote for Trump, and an additional 8% of respondents said it was "possible" they would vote for the president. Slightly more than a third--36%--said they would "never" vote for Trump. 

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Fifty percent of Catholics surveyed by the poll said they would consider voting for a third party candidate.

This was the first year that daily Mass was celebrated at the conference, held at National Harbor outside of Washington, D.C., with priests volunteering from nearby parishes. 

Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC, told CNA that the decision to include daily Mass at the event came in response to widespread support for a vigil Mass celebrated on the final day of the conference last year. 

"There's so many kids who are here from schools, and CPAC ends on a Saturday, and then most of them then get on airplane Sunday morning," Schlapp told CNA. "And so we started with a vigil Mass last year and I got so much great feedback. I had people stop me in airports and train stations saying, thank you for doing Mass on Saturday night."

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