What is new is the ability of self-identified Catholic politicians to attract broad support from the among the evangelical Protestant religious right.
...[T]he "Catholic" political style is strongest among evangelical Protestant voters, not actual Catholics. The eagerness of Catholic bishops to jump into a fight over contraception, for example, does not reflect that attitudes of their parishoners, but it gets strong support from evangelicals. Similarly, in one recent poll more than two-thirds of Catholic voters supported some sort of legal recognition of gay couples' relationships, with 44% favoring same-sex marriage; in very sharp contrast, an outright majority of evangelical voters said there should be no legal recognition of a same-sex relationship.
In political terms, the evangelical Protestant Right has become Catholicized. They do not see Catholicism as a religion very different from their own because it leads to the same positions on the battlefield, call it Fortress GOP. It is a political worldview that is singularly well suited to negative politics. Who cares whether your guy is actually a bit of a nut-case or has some sleaze in his history if he will defeat the forces of darkness? Liberals tolerate venality in their candidates if they believe they will do good; "Catholic" conservatives tolerate venality if they believe their candidates will defeat evil. ...
There is the potential for deep divisions appearing in the GOP along an axis of "Protestant" versus "Catholic" religious conservatism. But regardless of what happens next, the rise of first Gingrich and now Santorum as the candidate of choice for the Religious Right is a profound sign of how Catholic the American religious right has become.
This explains why Rick Santorum actually wins less of the Catholic vote than Romney, despite being a (nominal, pro-torture, anti-health care) Roman Catholic. I guess the anti-Catholic views of extreme evangelicals aren't so important when the enemy of my enemy is now my friend....
We have discussed before the predilection of Roman Catholics to practice "don't ask don't tell" (indeed I and others routinely call them out on this) but surely, they see the discordance even more strongly now.