Donald Trump v. the Bishop of Rome

By Yigit Topcu

Pope Francis is not a stranger to politics. His papacy has been characterized chiefly by his goal of reforming the Catholic church – and when such reformist views get pushed into the political arena, the pope’s beliefs have had a tendency to resemble something close to progressive politics, although not quite the same.

This was made clear by the pope’s criticisms of the excesses capitalism, his regular calls for more action on climate change, or his more accepting views towards homosexuality. But perhaps the most political statement Pope Francis has made so far occurred on Thursday, when he directly criticized the proposals and beliefs of the GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump.  

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” the Pope told journalists.

Questioning the faith of Donald Trump is not a new line of attack in this race. Earlier in the year, Trump’s religious credentials were under attack after a speech he gave at Liberty University, where he mistakenly pronounced the title of his favorite Bible verse as “Two Corinthians” rather than “Second Corinthians”.

However, that this criticism comes from the bishop of Rome himself, and Trump’s noticeably fiery response in return, deserves attention. Could this hurt Trump’s campaign?

His response was immediate, calling the pope’s comments “disgraceful”, adding “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith,”. Trump also attacked the government in Mexico, as Francis has been in the country recently, claiming that the Mexican government “made many disparaging remarks about me to the Pope.”

Trump then invoked his strongman foreign policy stance which he has been projecting on the campaign trail, saying “If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president,”.

Meanwhile when asked if he would recommend against voting for Trump, the pope said “As far as whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that.”

Ultimately this exchange most likely will not hurt Trump’s standing in the race. The pope has made political statements before, from which no swaying of opinions has realistically occurred. His historic speech in congress, which strongly advocated more action on climate change, was widely dismissed by the Republican Party. His stances on abortion and contraception on the other hand did not sway any Democrats.

Likewise the GOP presidential field has so far avoided getting involved in the Pope Francis v. Trump feud. When pressed for a response, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, both catholics, made statements essentially stating that the Pope is not a source of political guidance for them, but instead a spiritual one.

As for Trump’s supporters and potential supporters, it is not entirely certain how they will react. Catholic voters tend to be politically divided and overall are not a highly influential demographic of voters. Plus, Trump supporters in the past have shown a tendency to either accept or ignore statements made by their candidate, or ignore criticisms directed towards him.

It’s most likely that the pope’s statements and Trump’s response will join the many other instances this election of actions and statements which should hurt Donald Trump’s campaign, but won’t.