Why Trump’s tiff with the Pope endangers his Political Future

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Billionaire bigot Donald Trump’s tiff with Pope Francis continued on Thursday, though Trump appears to have gotten cold feet about taking on the Pontiff toward the end of yesterday.

The reason this dispute is important is that Trump cannot win the presidency with only the backing of white Protestants, and he has now alienated everyone else. As Mark Gray points out, the country has changed dramatically, so that white Protestants are no longer a majority:


h/t Our Sunday Visitor Weekly

US Catholics typically split 50/50 between Democratic candidates and Repubican ones in presidential elections. White Protestants split 40/60 in favor of Republicans. Everyone else, 26% of the electorate, skews heavily Democratic. Latinos have been trending Democratic, and Trump and Carson have probably pushed them further in that direction and also have energized Latino voters to come to the ballot box.

Only about 25% of the 80 million US Catholics are solid Conservatives, with another 35% saying they are “moderates.” About 50% of Catholics vote Republican in presidential contests.


h/t Pew from 2008

So the only ways a Republican can win the presidency are either to pull members of the Catholic working and lower middle class the way Reagan did, or to get a substantial Latino vote, the way George W. Bush did.

After his performance this week, Trump probably has little shot at either. He is thus left with 60% of White Protestants, at most, and probably will get few votes from the other major groups if he is that standard-bearer (non-Christians include Jews, members of Asian religions, and a growing segment of people who answer “none” when asked their religion in polls– all of them vote heavily Democratic). This would be a blow-out for the Democrats even more extensive than the 1964 trouncing of Goldwater by Johnson.

The brouhaha won’t affect Trump in largely Protestant South Carolina, but my guess is that the “moderate” swing vote among Catholics is now likely to swing elsewhere.

The whole thing started when Pope Francis went to Mexico and spoke out about the plight of Mexican labor migrants to the US, complaining about the “human tragedy” of migrants who flee their homes for environmental reasons.

Trump accused the Pope of being an agent of Mexico and said that the government there had only told Pope Francis “one side of the story:”

“He didn’t see the crime, the drug trafficking and the negative economic impact the current policies have on the United States. They are using the pope as a pawn and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is so rampant.”

(Actually, the evidence is that in recent years more Mexicans have left the US than have come in; and immigrants typically have a low crime rate because they are afraid of being deported).

The Pope replied vigorously:

“Anyone, whoever he is, who only wants to build walls and not bridges is not a Christian . . . Vote, don’t vote, I won’t meddle. But I simply say, if he says these things, this man is not a Christian . . . We need to see if he really said them and for this I will give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Trump also went on the offensive, saying “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.”

But Trump has been going around questioning Ted Cruz’s religious faith, saying it is inconsistent for him to tell bald-faced lies and then to represent himself as a Christian

And, I don’t know if Trump has heard of excommunication, but it is a prerogative of the pope to, like, question people’s faith.

Then Trump went medieval, shouting, “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 because this would not have happened.”

ISIL has talked in its braggart way about taking the Vatican, but Italian police maintain that there is no evidence of an immediate danger to the Pope.

“On the plane coming back from Mexico, a reporter asked the Pope about the charge: “Am I a pawn of the Mexican government? I leave that to your judgement, to the people to judge.”

Responding to Trump’s charge of being politicized, the Pope added, “Thanks be to God if that is what he said, because Aristotle defined man as a political animal: at least I am a human person.”

JEB! took Trump’s side against Pope Francis, despite being a Catholic himself.

By Thursday evening I presume someone showed Trump the above population chart, because he was talking about what a “great guy” Pope Francis is. But my guess is that it is too late.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

AP: Pope: Trump ‘Not Christian’ for Wanting a Wall

21 Responses

  1. The points you make in your piece professor are of course, valid and informative. However, I would have thought you should be writing with some outrage that the pope is getting involved in America’s politics at all. Perhaps the Pontiff might just have something to say about Italian politics, but the notion he is actually trying to influence the outcome of an American election is outrageous

    • If American politics had no effect on the rest of the world non Americans should not get involved. Mr Trump has left the world in no doubt that he means his Presidency to be felt around the world. Francis as a Latin American would know what that means.

    • But popes have not only spoken against Communism, but let their hierarchies be used in political plots against it. Maybe this Pope sees the demonization of Latinos in the US as the beginning of a great act of evil.

  2. Pope Francis may suffer more political damage from this incident than Donald Trump — many Roman Catholics have responded negatively to the impression that the Pope questioned Trump’s Christian credentials and that the Vatican has been meddling with too heavy a hand in American politics.

    So far, most pundits have consistently misread the trajectory of Donald Trump’s political fortunes and the nature of his appeal to a critical mass of Americans.

    (Note: I am a Roman Catholic by upbringing who has been favorably impressed by Pope Francis until now — my gut instinct is that he crossed a red line that has damaged his own credibility as a voice of universal wisdom, hovering over and above the political fray.)

    • I don’t think the Pope was trying to meddle in American politics. I would be surprised if he has more than a vague idea who Donald Trump even is. One of our fatal flaws as Americans is we tend to think anything that happens, anywhere in the world, is primarily about us. It’s not.

      When the Pope speaks, he speaks to a worldwide audience. Roman Catholics in his native Latin America outnumber US Catholics by probably 10-1. I suspect he was thinking much more about them when he spoke than about swing voters in Pennsylvania.

      And then there’s Europe, where walls are going up left and right as we speak to keep out refugees from Africa and the Middle East. I suspect he was speaking to them, too.

  3. Karl Durston

    usually I would agree but with this guy I doubt it. He will claim he got the Pope to admit he made a mistake and they are best buds

  4. The assumption that the Catholic vote is a swing vote doesn’t conform to the presidential election returns. In general, the more Catholic the state, the more Democratic. The region with the highest percentage of Catholics is New England and the Middle Atlantic states, none of which has gone Republican in a general election since 1988 (except Bush taking NH in 2000). Of the states with the largest shares of Catholics, only Texas is consistently Republican and only Florida and Ohio are true swing states. Michigan, Illinois, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, New Mexico and Oregon have gone Democratic in every election.

  5. Why Trump’s tiff with the Pope endangers his Political Future

    If that doesn’t do it, his mouth will eventually deliver the coup de grace.

    Trump delighted many people with his early pronouncements about plutocrats buying politicians, but showing his other side has taken the gloss of that apple and shown a rotten core.

  6. Trump isn’t running for president. He’s running in the republican primary. If you don’t know, republicans hate the pope. Once he wins the primary he can kiss the pope’s *** (ring) and americans will throw flowers at his feet.

  7. Giving crap to the Pope and calling for an Apple boycott will set the decline of this non-substantive entertainer and spoiled person of wealth.

  8. The next set of primaries mostly occur in states that are not heavily Catholic, and if he does well there ( and does not keep attacking the Pope), his numbers may not take much of a hit as he will be riding on the wins.

  9. I don’t think the pope was trying to influence the voting. And I think he was casting a wider net than just Trump. Politicians and many others wear their religion like a brand, like wearing a Green Bay Packers warm up jacket.

    I feel the pope’s “Christian” is not a brand but one abiding a social code, i.e. love thy neighbor, turn the other cheek, do unto others…. Those Christians are hard to find. And they are not necessarily branded Christians. They could be Jews, Muslims, atheists, or any other identification. You’ll know them when you meet them.

    • The most “Christian” people I have ever known have been atheists, Jews, or atheistic Jews.

  10. The Pope answered an honest question honestly……Maybe all politicians should take a lesson from him.
    P.S. Non-Catholic

    • That’s why the media’s collective heads exploded. “He gave a straight answer? What’s his angle?”

  11. Trump has already lost most of the potential votes of Catholics who can relate to the Pope’s position on the wall. Republican-oriented Catholics sympathetic to Trump will either side with The Donald or rationalize away the differences (per Bill Donohue).

      • Based on the info in your article, the key discrepancy in Catholic voting are the many “moderates” who keep voting Republican. What’s their criteria? Abortion? Most US Catholics don’t seem to be single-issue voters about that. Whites who want moderation among themselves but want “something” done to crush non-Whites regardless of religion? Well, Trump has to feel pretty good about his chances with hypocrites like that.

  12. Pope is a religious authority. His job is to challenge other people’s religions. Why Trump is so irritated when his religion was questioned, while he has trashed other religions so often.

    Trump likes to talk. He talks, talks & talks, but never gives any substantive answer for any policy matters. He is no more than a good entertainer for the long and boring primaries.

    • Trump likes to talk. He talks, talks & talks, but never gives any substantive answer for any policy matters.

      That is particularly true when it comes to immigration. He sees only the symptoms and not the disease. Trump is apparently oblivious to the reality that the vast majority of immigrants are abandoning their homes and homelands because of great injustices inflicted upon them by a variety of forces initiated directly or indirectly by American politicians and capitalists. Many of these immigrants come from societies that are family-oriented so that if they leave their families it is with the greatest reluctance.

  13. To get back to basics, what is a Christian? The bloodthirsty Crusaders claimed to be Christians. The Grand Inquisitors who sent people to be burned as the stake were certified Christians. Albert Schweitzer who lived a life based on reverence for life was a Christian. Many charities with volunteers making big sacrifices to help the poor, the victims of injustice and wars have many professed Christians among them.

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