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Governor Christie’s ‘crazy’ Catholic problem - why he relishes conflict

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
Last May, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie explained why he seems to relish conflict.

“I have an Irish father,” said Christie, who on Tuesday announced that he would not seek the GOP presidential nomination, “and I had…a Sicilian mother. For those of you who have been exposed to the combination of Irish and Sicilian, it has made me not unfamiliar with conflict.”

Meanwhile, Christie’s wife, Mary Pat, has not only been tabbed as a highly influential partner. She is also “the ninth of 10 kids in a close-knit Irish Catholic family,” according to the New York Post.

A long time family friend, New Jersey state Senator Joe Kyrillos, was recently quoted as saying, “(Mary Pat) does not get pushed around. She’s a tough Irish woman. She comes from a family of 10 kids!”
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So, if Christie ultimately decided to throw his (ample) weight behind a presidential run, it would have added a decidedly Irish Catholic flair.

And that could have been a big problem.

On the surface, an Irish Catholic Republican is no big deal these days. The problems come when you dig deeply into the conservative GOP base, where strong vestiges of anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiment still linger.

Now, it is true that Republicans already have a Catholic (Rick Santorum) and a Mormon (Mitt Romney) in their crowded field. But it’s also true that neither of them have exactly wowed vast numbers of Republicans.
And as one religious expert wrote in The New York Times in July, “Hardline fundamentalists remain anti-Mormon (and anti-Catholic, for that matter); they may not ever support any but their own.”

And let’s not forget the Muslims! Christie himself scolded conservatives who groaned when the governor appointed Muslim American Sohail Mohammed to the New Jersey Superior Court.

“I think it is terrible to try to exclude someone from office based only on his religion, and that’s what was happening here,” said Christie, before looking back to a pivotal moment in Irish Catholic American history.

“President Kennedy had to stand up in Houston and say his own personal faith wouldn’t intersect with his public life. Since then I thought we wouldn’t have any more of this ridiculousness,” he said.

Christie also famously said, “I’m tired of dealing with crazies.”

Well, that’s just what he would have had to deal with if he had jumped into the race.

Catholicism remains a problem when you wander away from the moderate Republicanism of the Northeastern suburbs and into the more intense hotbeds of evangelical Protestantism in the south and West.

Michele Bachmann has been linked to a Lutheran church with nearly half a million members whose admiration for Reformation leader Martin Luther has led them to label the papacy “the anti-Christ.”

Yes, Bachmann has left this particularly loving church. But how many Democrats do you really think are among the half a million members of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod?

Meanwhile, don’t forget that John McCain had to repudiate the endorsement of a notorious anti-Catholic preacher four years ago.

“The McCain campaign had already endured a series of other disclosures of controversial past statements from (Reverend John) Hagee about his views of Catholics,” the Times noted in 2008.

Hagee is far from a footnote these days. Word is he is thinking of endorsing Rick Perry.

The point of this is not to tar these candidates with the radical views of certain anti-Catholics. The point is to note that a significant number of influential conservatives still hold these views.

Now, it is true Christie is solidly opposed to abortion. But as his defense of a Muslim American judge suggests, he has also taken a generally moderate stance on immigration. (As, by the way, did Ronald Reagan, as Linda Chavez noted in an interesting New York Post column last week.)

It all comes down to this -- how will this ethnic Catholic who won’t bash immigrants and who talks about John F. Kennedy in a positive light fair in the Republican primary?

How many “crazies” would Christie have listened to before his famous temper made it clear that he is quite unelectable?

We won’t find out this time around, but maybe in four years . . .

(Contact “Sidewalks” at tomdeignan@earthlink.net or facebook.com/tomdeignan)

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