Washington Wednesday: Democrats and God


NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 1st of May, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up today, Washington Wednesday.

Well, we only thought the Republican presidential field was big in 2015 and 2016. The GOP had 17 candidates that primary voters eventually whittled down to Donald Trump.

EICHER: But Democrats have already blown past that number this time around. The non-partisan site Ballotpedia shows 21 Democrats, and we have time just to name each one. And, Mary, let’s divide up the work here.

So in alphabetical order, here we go:

Joe Biden
Cory Booker
Pete Buttigieg
Julián Castro
John Delaney
Tulsi Gabbard
Kirsten Gillibrand
Mike Gravel
Kamala Harris
John Hickenlooper

That’s the first 10.

REICHARD: Jay Inslee
Amy Klobuchar
Wayne Messam
Seth Moulton
Beto O’Rourke
Tim Ryan
Eric Swalwell
Elizabeth Warren
Marianne Williamson
Andrew Yang

And one more—Senator Bernie Sanders. Technically he’s an independent. But he caucuses with Senate Democrats and he’s seeking the Democratic nomination for president, second time around.

At least two other major candidates—the governor of Montana and a U.S. senator from Colorado—are also poised to run.

EICHER: So if you’re keeping track, they would be 22 and 23.

And get this: The New York Times reports that 16 of the candidates have already met the party’s criteria for the first debate in June. They’ll need a big stage and a wide-angle lens.

We’ll talk more about the field in the coming months, but today we’ll zero in on one interesting aspect: How the candidates are talking about God.

Here to do that is Harvest Prude. She’s a WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital reporter based in Washington, D.C. Good morning, Harvest!

PRUDE: Good morning, Nick!

EICHER: Now, Harvest, you recently wrote about this topic in your weekly WORLD Digital Roundup, The Stew. And it caught my eye because, frankly, talking about God isn’t something Democrats are known for doing as much—at least in public. And back at the 2012 convention, Democrats temporarily voted to remove references to God from the party platform.

In your lead sentence you referred to the candidate who I worked very hard at practicing his name. I’m sure that you did, too. It’s Pete and the last name is spelled B-U-T-T-I-G-I-E-G. I have seen it as Pete Boot-edge-edge. How do you say it?

PRUDE: I say it in two words. So I put the word “Buddha” and “judge” together and I just say “Buddha-judge” real fast.

EICHER: So you say, “Buddha-judge.” I say, “Boot-edge-edge,” and if we say it fast at the same time it comes out as…

PRUDE, EICHER: Buttigieg.

EICHER: Well, let me play a quote from—thankfully he refers to himself also as Mayor Pete, as he says. He is the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Not your normal path to the presidency, but he’s an interesting guy. Here he is talking about the Bible and talking about the gospel. This comes from a CNN Town Hall meeting. And let’s listen to this:

BUTTIGIEG: My understanding of Scripture is that it is about protecting the stranger and the prisoner and the poor person and that idea of welcome. That’s, that’s what I get in the gospel, when I am in church.

That is interesting. And he loves to contrast that, contrast himself with the former governor of his state, now the vice president, Mike Pence.

PRUDE: You know, he does. But he’s been the primary Democrat to kind of make the case that Democrats have really lost touch with people of faith and that they should be trying to win over those religious votes, which is how I got interested in the topic, because it is unusual to kind of see that message on the left.

So he’s argued that Democrats should really seek to win the votes of what he would call the “Christian left.”

EICHER: OK, so Pete Buttigieg really is the one who has helped to bring the “God talk” — for lack of a better term— to the forefront. But he’s not the only one doing it.

PRUDE: Absolutely not. Yeah. So Senators Warren and Booker and Gillibrand have also talked about their faith and tried to make that appeal to religious voters. Senator Warren has talked about how she has roots in the Methodist church and how she used to teach Sunday school.

Senator Booker has said things like, “Christ is the center of my life,” and he’s talked about how his platform is inspired by his faith, and other candidates have also tried to make that case.

EICHER: Harvest, you know that it’s one thing to talk about God on the campaign trail. That’s not new. That’s been going on for years and years and years. But it’s quite another to make a play for religious voters by emphasizing public policy. Do you see any of the candidates on the Democratic side trying seriously to do that?

PRUDE: Yeah, not so much. At least not in terms of social issues that are important to traditional religious conservatives. So, on issues like marriage, gay marriage, and life—I should note that Mayor Pete is an openly gay Episcopalian who’s married to a man, and he’s also voiced support for late-term abortions. So, on issues like that, you don’t really see Democrats moving the needle in terms of making the case to religious conservatives.

But, you know, I should note that their message on compassion—conservatives care about compassion issues, too, and so some of them are trying to make the case that their policies flow from their faith on compassion issues. Senator Cory Booker has argued that the Bible’s message about alleviating poverty, welcoming the stranger informs his views on welfare and immigration…

EICHER: Yeah, Christians are going to disagree on particulars, but we do care about these issues. And this whole conversation reminds me of a piece that came out a couple of years ago in The Atlantic. It was written by an evangelical Christian by the name of Michael Wear. He was in the Obama White House. He worked for President Obama.

He knows a lot of these candidates in the Democratic lineup here and in particular Hillary Clinton. And his analysis was that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 in part because Democrats had come basically to ignore people of faith. Is it your sense, Harvest, that Democrats are coming around to Michael Wear’s point of view? I mean in a way that would make this more than just a passing fad?

PRUDE: I do think that some Democrats woke up after 2016 and realized they needed to change, particularly in light of the role that white evangelicals played in handing the White House to Donald Trump. And some conservatives want to give Democrats the chance to make that argument to religious voters.

So Bob Vander Plaats with the conservative religious organization The Family Leader is one of them. He’s invited seven of the top Democratic contenders to a family leadership summit in Iowa in July. And, of course, what’s key about Iowa is that that is a key caucus state where things kind of kick-off in the primary. So Beto has already said he’s not going. Buttigieg has said he’s considering it.

So, events like that are going to offer Democrats the chance to make that case to religious voters. And we’ll see, really, how many of them are actually serious about this.

EICHER: OK. Harvest Prude is a WORLD reporter. She’s based in Washington and, Harvest, thanks so much for the conversation. Good to talk to you.

PRUDE: Thank you.


(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, Pool) Democratic presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg, from South Bend, Indiana, listens during a lunch meeting with civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton at Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem neighborhood of New York, Monday, April 29, 2019. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Washington Wednesday: Democrats and God

  1. Ken Clark says:

    I get angry when I hear Pete Buttigieg “teach” scripture. He clearly has a twisted understanding (to match his lifestyle) and ignores much of what it says. He’s really teaching the bible of Pete, and not The Bible.

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