Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says a recent Wikileaks hack of top Hillary Clinton aide’s emails proves her infamous “deplorables” remark referred to practicing Christians—as Donald Trump’s campaign seeks to shift attention away from the leak of a 2005 video last week which captured Trump bragging about using his fame to sexually assault women.
A Wikileaks hack of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s private email indicated that Clinton campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri and other staffers joked about Catholics and evangelicals, with one referring to Catholics as “severely backwards.” Podesta did not respond to the emails. Speaking in a conference call along with Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway and several practicing Catholic officials, Gingrich and his wife Callista both expressed dismay over the comments, with Gingrich saying a Clinton Supreme Court would be the “most anti-liberty, most anti-free speech” in history.
Gingrich alluded to Clinton’s statement last month that half of Trump’s supporters are “deplorables” who are either racist, xenophobic, sexist, Islamophobic or homophobic.
“Callista and I both feel assault not just on Catholicism but on people of faith, the callousness, the contempt,” Gingrich said. “Now we know what Hillary meant by deplorables. It’s people of faith.”
The Clinton campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However Brian Fallon, a press secretary for Hillary Clinton for America, dismissed the controversy on Twitter earlier today.
Trump himself has not enjoyed a particularly high level of popularity among Catholics. A recent PRRI/The Atlantic Survey poll indicates that Clinton is leading Trump in the Catholic vote 55 percent to 24 percent—an 11 percent lead.
Gingrich himself was born a Lutheran and converted to the Southern Baptist faith as an adult. Upon wedding Callista, his third wife, he adopted her Catholic faith and the church retroactively annulled his previous two marriages.
Neither Gingrich nor any of the other participants in the call mentioned the footage leaked last Friday, in which Trump described how women let him “grab them by the pussy” because he is a “star.” But on Monday, the former House speakertold Republicans after the second presidential debate that the only options are to help defeat Clinton or to help elect her.
He said Clinton will have to choose between standing by an “anti-Christian, anti-Catholic staff” or “recognize how totally unacceptable it is and step in and get rid of them.” And he dismissed questions about Trump’s previous support of Planned Parenthood as well as his pro-choice stance, calling Trump’s support of Supreme Court justices similar to the well-known late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia “remarkably encouraging compared to the radicals that Hillary would appoint.”
“Donald Trump has indicated clearly that Justice Scalia is his model for who he would appoint to the Supreme Court,” Gingrich said.
When asked whether there were previous instances in which religious liberties were under attack, Gingrich said religious persecution “is not some fantasy” and that “the left is steadily going toward a totalitarian system.”
He cited examples such as a proposal by the Massachusetts Commission on Transgender Rights prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and the Blaine Amendment, a failed amendment that banned the government from providing aid to religious schools.
“James G. Blaine, when running for president, attacked Catholics and Blaine Amendments which blocked funding for Catholic schools still exist 130 years later in many states,” Gingrich said.
Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said the comments are reminiscent of Democratic National Committee staffers “looking to besmirch and diminish Bernie Sanders,” referring to a Wikileaks’ release of internal Democratic National Committee emails that discussed Sanders’ Jewish background and apparent lack of religious faith.
“For 30 years, Hillary Clinton has been openly hostile on issues important to Catholics,” Conway said.
She added that the Trump campaign’s strategy to attract Catholic voters didn’t involve targeted ads—fortunately for the campaign, which suffers from scanty funding—but door-knocking and an absentee ballot early voting program, which she insists has been has been effective.
“Our Catholic engagement strategy is a great example of the bottom-up, grassroots-centric nature of our campaign,” Conway said. “You’re not gonna see tens of millions of dollars in trying to reach Catholics.”
She also said Trump’s pro-life stance, which he adopted shortly before his presidential run, is an important issues “to tens of millions of Catholics regardless of what they tell pollsters and what their beliefs are.”
“Our ticket is pro-life and that’s incredibly important to Catholics across the country, including in the swing states,” Conway continued, noting that there is a major concentration of Catholics in some swing states.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.