It Was an Awkward Caucus for Catholic Millennials


Q: What’s it like to be a young Catholic millennial voter at the Iowa Caucus?

A: Lonely and uneasy. And that’s a problem.

A group of Benedictine College students went to Iowa for the Caucuses as part of a political science/polling project which isn’t completed yet. But what they did bring back was a valuable view from the rising generation of Catholic on the state of play in the political parties. They said they were the only Catholic millennials there, and after seeing what they say, they think they know why.

Cruz: Rehearsed Enthusiasm

Cruz, a student told me, was very smart and very polished — but the students felt uncomfortable from the first. Millennials value authenticity. They didn’t see it in Cruz.

“We felt like we were in a hardcore-Protestant middle-class white Texas suburb. He spoke like a televangelist, but very scripted. He was abrasive and had an edge I didn’t like. His audience was 80% white baby boomers, with one group of Asians there who kind of kept close to each other. Looking around, I felt like ‘If these people find out I’m a Catholic, they won’t like me.’”

A student told me she went in not liking Cruz, but without having had much exposure to him. She figured seeing him in person was bound to make him rise in her estimation. It didn’t.

“I left feeling worse about him than when I went in. He was very harsh. He said the kind of things Trump says, but it sounds worse coming from him somehow. His wife came on and talked. I liked her. Everyone wants to vote for her, not him. Then they brought their daughters on stage. They were 7 and 5 and did not want to be there. I don’t like it when politicians use their families as a prop.”

Marco_rubio_cpac_2012Rubio’s Tortuous Ending

Marco Rubio was probably the group’s favorite going in. But they said hearing him speak changed that.

“I didn’t really have much of an opinion going in,” said one student, “but as he spoke my positive opinion of him kept rising. He was likeable, authentic and seemed to know how to get things done. But then, toward the end, my opinion totally changed. He started yelling. He seemed really angry. He was explaining how he would put terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, without a lawyer, without a process, just put them there, and do whatever was necessary to get every piece of information from them.”

The other students noticed the same thing. The presentation sparked a conversation in the group about torture. In the end the group decided that Rubio’s position — and his passion —seemed dangerous to them.

“It was really scary,” one said. “He seemed so angry and violent. It was a total change from earlier in his speech. And the crowd changed, too. There was all this positive energy at first, and that was gone at the end. It was eerie.”

Bernie_Sanders_(20033841412_24d8796e44_c0)Bernie’s Boosters

The same student told me Bernie Sanders’ event was different from all the others. There were actors and entertainers who introduced him — “but they didn’t seem to know much about him.”

One big difference between Bernie and the others was scary: “The Republicans tell you what they want to do, and then explain how they would do it. Not Bernie. He would tell you all the things he wanted to do, but he left out the ‘how’ part.” But she said Cruz and Rubio fell into the same trap. Their first item of business would be to rescind all of Obama’s “overreaching” executive orders; but their next order of business, it seemed, would be to issue executive orders of their own.

Bernie’s audience was odd, the students said. One student from the East Coast said, “They didn’t look like Iowans. If you’ve been to Maine, they’re all lumberjacks. In Vermont, they’re all the children of hippies — mixed with hillbillies. They’re all artists. They’re all in favor of free weed. That’s what this audience looked like. They all seemed like they were flown in from Vermont.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the Massachusetts Conference for Women in Boston, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Hillary’s Hatred

The students who went to Hillary’s rally said the crowd was much more racially diverse, with triple the number of minority voters as any of the others. One student told me she didn’t go to Hillary’s rally because Hillary is an hour late to everything.

True to form, she was an hour late to the Iowa rally, too. But a student said Hillary’s was much more energetic and lively than the Republican rallies. But he added, “People went to the rally to see Bill, a former president. People left while Hillary was still talking.” The students told me voters left Bernie’s rally early also … but no one left the Republican rallies early.

Hillary “had a lot of great starter ideas,” said a student, “but she didn’t finish them … leaving it to voters to assume she had details”

The students agreed that Hillary seemed to be the most virulently pro-abortion of the candidates. “Sanders supports abortion, but he is quiet about it. Hillary is forceful, unapologetic and mean. She personally attacks people who disagree with her about it.”

One student said, “Sitting there watching this woman talking about child abuse and then going directly to promoting abortion made my stomach turn, physically.” He added that Chelsea was pregnant, and Hillary beamed with pride talking about “her new grandchild.” “So privileged people are babies and expendable people are fetuses you can kill?” he said.

That’s definitely scary.

Donald_Trump_Signs_The_Pledge_14Trump: Candidate Elsewhere

And what about Trump?

Trump was nowhere to be seen. “All of his events were far away and hard to get to,” a student told me.

Which is odd: Iowa is all about being there for the people at the caucus.  It’s almost as if one of the dominant front-runners in the primary race isn’t really campaigning for the people of his party, but for a national TV audience far away.

And that’s scariest of all.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Tom Hoopes, author of What Pope Francis Really Said, is writer in residence at Benedictine College, in Atchison, Kansas, where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications Department and edits The Gregorian, a Catholic identity speech digest. He was previously editor of the National Catholic Register for 10 years and with his wife, April, of Faith & Family magazine for five. A frequent contributor to Catholic publications, he began his career as a reporter in the Washington, D.C., area and as press secretary for U.S. House Ways & Means Chairman Bill Archer. He lives in Atchison with his wife and those of his nine children still at home. The views and opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Benedictine College or the Gregorian Institute.


  1. “The Republicans tell you what they want to do, and then explain how they would do it.”

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but this seems rather nonsensical. Perhaps someone can finally point out the Republican health care plan when the Affordable Care Act is repealed?

    I’ll go back to listening to the crickets.

    • I think repeal is what they want to do.

      Repeal the ACA via congressional action, as the belief is that the Federal government shouldn’t be adminstering healthcare.

      Repeal of ACA doesn’t require a plan by them do do what they don’t want done to begin with, does it?

      • I guess. Although it seems nonsensical to strip millions of people of their health insurance. That’s why to me it’s not much of a plan or a “how they are going to do it.” Unless the Republican Party doesn’t really care if people have access to health insurance.

        • I don’t think the R’s want healthcare administered by the federal government.

          I’m not that thrilled with it.

          Insurance requires a premium to be paid by the insured. Yes, ACA subsidizes some of the premium under certain circumstances, but the insured/patient STILL pays the premium PLUS the annual out of pocket until 100% coverage (or whatever the policy dictates) kicks in.

          So, those who claimed that they couldn’t afford health insurance-PERIOD-still can’t. On top of that, you now get taxed/fined for not having it.

        • Everyone has access to insurance (unless of course you’re speaking of the previously uninsured who can theoretically pay but cannot pass the underwriting process vis a vis preexisting condition).

          “Access” isn’t the same as “agency”. Someone will sell me a Ferrari or a 5th Avenue penthouse, but I can afford neither.

    • I DO agree that the Republicans (and Hilary) are short on details.

      Sanders. not so much. He’s clear on what his path would be.

    • It doesn’t seem like you’re listening, then. Ever since the run-up to ACA, and ever since, and even currently from all the candidates, I’ve heard lots of other specific proposals. From measures to increase competition like exchanges, opening up plan coverage types again, and uncoupling coverage from employers (making it individual and portable); to cost reduction like eliminating the ACA bureaucracy and reducing others, fighting fraud and waste, tort reform, streamlining systems, reporting, and information, reducing or eliminating medical taxes, tax deductions or credits for insurance, etcs; to other strategies like Medicare/Medicaid block grants, expanded high risk pools, retaining coverage for pre-existing conditions (though some allow small or temporary increases in premium for that), etc.

      There are tons of ideas being proposed, and have been for years. Those who don’t like Republicans and blindly trust in ACA/Democrats just don’t listen or like to hear or acknowledge any them.

    • Definitely agree with you here Justin. They talk so much about repealing the Affordable Care Act, but offer absolutely no alternative to it. The silence says to me “Basic health care should only be for those who can afford it and screw everybody else”. Say what you want about Obama, but the move towards getting basic health care for everyone should be something we as Catholics are supporting. You might disagree with how he did it, but at least he did something.

      • Not a fan of the “at least he did something” argument.

        For example, if you try to put a fire out by throwing gas on it, you’re “doing something” but that doesn’t mean you helped.

  2. As a married man in his mid-30’s, I fall somewhere between the millennials and generation X, but my politics are more in line with millennials. I tend to lean left on many issues, but consider myself pro-life and can’t understand how a culture we are fine with the practice of abortion. I also agree with most millennials that it is not enough to be pro-birth and you have to give expecting mothers viable options to abortion and support single mothers with adequate health care, prenatal services, and affordable childcare.

    The above quotes from millennials echo my problems with the 5 candidates. Cruz and his evangelical base make me very uncomfortable as a Catholic, and Rubio sometimes talks a good game, but like one person was quoted in the article, he, like Cruz and Trump, makes these absurd promises about terrorism and terrorists that have no likelihood of success. Hillary has some good ideas, but her evangelical and uncompromising approach to abortion is a problem. There was a day when liberals (her husband!) said abortion should be safe, legal and rare. Hilary and her supporters blow way past that and want us as a society to be completely ok with it, and if you disagree with abortion, you are an anti-woman bigot. Sigh.

    Bernie has some good points to make about Wall Street and the banks, and I may have voted for him in my college days. Now, I have a job, 2 kids and another on the way, and I don’t see it viable to have a candidate propose universal single-payer health care without a viable way to pay for it, other than raising taxes on everybody.

    • SM-

      ” also agree with most millennials that it is not enough to be pro-birth and you have to give expecting mothers viable options to abortion and support single mothers with adequate health care, prenatal services, and affordable childcare.”

      I hear/read the above (or variants of same) a lot. It infers/assumes that viable options to abortion and support programs for single mothers are some pipe dream that doesn’t exist today.

      They do exist, so they not? Expanding them would result (at least partially) in a step toward the womb-to-tomb scenario you seem to not have a taste for a la Sanders, as it would require tax increases.

      • Thanks for your response, RAM. I disagree that providing help for expecting mothers would lead to womb-to-tomb services. I think we need to push the pro life cause, but also recognize the economic realities that many women confront in deciding whether to abort a child. If we can reduce abortions by expanding services for mothers, then we have to do it. Period.

        • Exoanding services how?

          Same question as before. Public services/programs exist now for women/families-help with food, housing, education, public schools provide breakfast, lunch, before and after school care, etc.

          What else is there? What else would you have done by the state?

          Not being contentious here-I really don’t know how one would expand these services, unless you’re suggesting making complete payments where partial subsidies exist now.

  3. Don’t be fooled by Bernie Sanders — he’s a diehard communist …
    Jan 16, 2016 … As polls tighten and self-described socialist Bernie Sanders looks more like a serious contender than a novelty candidate for president, the ……/dont-be-fooled-by-bernie-sanders-hes-a-diehard-communist/

  4. Last thought here:

    “And what about Trump?

    Trump was nowhere to be seen. “All of his events were far away and hard to get to,” a student told me.”

    You don’t say. All the people who attended his events, yet no millennials to survey about it? Too far away-too hard to get to the event, despite the fact that, apparently, all the people attending weren’t afflicted similarly.

    I get that CV doesn’t like Trump, but please don’t insult your readers this way, Tom.

  5. I must be too advanced in years. “Generation X”, “Millennial”? I get lost in the vernacular.

    When I was a new father in the 60s voting was taken quite seriously. There was ample evidence of that in our Cathollic home where my mom hung a picture of JFK next to the Pope’s. My folks were miffed by the fact that every one of our priests were GOPers. But she overlooked terrible Tammany Hall. I would ask why are millennial Catholics in such disarray regarding caucuses? Could it be the Republican caucus run by the leadership in DC? Ted Cruz, a freshman senator assumed control of that caucus in 2015 when he threatened to shut down the government if his filibuster against ACA or defunding of PP were not brought to a vote. When it is said in that context one can see their frustrations. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently set Cruz straight when he said there will be NO government shutdown.

    As the ashes of the Iowa fallout cool we refocus on those who remain that have a sane and balanced approach to our needs. John Kasich comes closest.

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