Check out Gene Zubovich’s piece at Aeon titled “Evangelicals bring the votes, Catholics bring the brains.” I think he is largely correct.
When evangelicals mobilised politically in the 1970s and declared a ‘culture war’ against the menace of secularism, they put aside their longstanding anti-Catholicism and reached out to Catholic conservatives. Catholics proved to be perfect partners. Unlike evangelicals, conservative Catholics could draw on research universities, law schools, medical schools, business schools and other intellectual-producing institutions in the fight against secularism. Evangelicals’ suspicion of higher education since at least the days of the 1925 Scopes trial over teaching evolution meant that they had built few institutions of higher learning. Their bible colleges and seminaries were meant to create believers and converts, not intellectuals.
One important exception was an effort by the evangelical theologian Carl Henry to build a research university in the 1950s to rival Harvard and Yale (not to mention Georgetown and Notre Dame). But Henry’s effort to raise $300 million quickly fell apart. Donors worried that the university would distract from proselytising, which they held to be far more important. They also clashed over student-conduct rules, such as whether alcohol and movies would be allowed at the new university. Evangelicals had no centralised authority to settle these disputes and, in any case, rigorous intellectual enquiry was not a priority for a tradition that argues that the basic insights of Christianity are matters of the heart more than the mind. Evangelical law schools and PhD programmes remain extremely rare in the US. Ironically, a tradition so devoted to spreading literacy saw too much learning as a potential danger.
So, Catholics contributed a disproportionate share of intellectuals and professionals for the religious Right, while evangelicals provided the bodies and the votes. Unlike the Jewish intellectuals clustered around neoconservative publications, Catholic conservatives were more reliable on cultural issues such as abortion. It is no small irony that Notre Dame has become the most important centre for the historical study of evangelicalism. In 1994, the influential historian, and evangelical, Mark Noll called the lack of rigorous intellectual activity among evangelicals a ‘scandal’. Ten years on, he celebrated ‘the increasing engagement between evangelicals and Roman Catholics’ for the ‘improved evangelical use of the mind.’
How long the Catholic-evangelical alliance in US politics will continue is hard to say, but it is still going strong. One only needs to look at the nomination of the Catholic Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Now confirmed, he replaces Anthony Kennedy, another Catholic, and keeps a five-seat conservative majority on the nine-person court (including Gorsuch, who grew up Catholic but now attends an Episcopalian church with his family). Three of the four finalists for Kennedy’s seat were Catholic.