I can see how some might see Pope Francis as something of a radical leftist, at least in areas that don’t touch too directly on the central tenets of the Catholic faith. I hope it’s the case that he’s less of a radical than a shift from the politics of his two immediate predecessors. What’s amusing, however, is that he’s making Republican Catholic politicians uneasy less by being leftist than by being sane.
Here are some examples:
Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is having trouble explaining why he’s promoting Creationism when the pope says that the Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution are consistent with the Catholic faith.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is feeling the need to apologize for opposing our country’s rapprochement with Cuba because the pope enthusiastically endorsed this change in policy.
Former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is uncomfortable with the pope’s recent statement that there is no need for Catholics to “breed like rabbits.”
Then there’s the pope’s recent statements about the excesses of capitalism, his tolerant remarks about gays, his recommendation that the clergy place less emphasis on social controversies like abortion, his recognition of Palestinian statehood and, especially, his strong push to get Catholics to take global warming seriously.
Jeb Bush presents an interesting case. He’s a convert to Catholicism, which always places some unusual pressures on a person. It also shines a brighter light on one’s faith because it is freely chosen and not just something gifted to you by your parents. If Protestantism was good enough to get your father and brother elected president, what’s so bad about it, anyway? There are a lot of evangelical Christians in Iowa who will want to know the answer to that question, and they’ll be less understanding when they hear Bush praising this pope than they will be about someone who was brought up in that faith. In fact, the pope’s positions of political issues are so far afield from Republican orthodoxy that even some Catholic Republicans look askance at Jeb when he says kind things about Francis.
“In northwest Iowa, we are discussing this a great deal, and sometimes it’s hard for us to reconcile the pronouncements we read from the Holy Father with our conservative principles,” said Sam Clovis, a Catholic and political activist who’s run for U.S. Senate and state treasurer in Iowa…
…“It’s going to cause a lot of problems for Jeb Bush, because Republicans are simply not going to take him seriously,” he said…
…Clovis, for one, predicts that as Francis becomes more visible in American politics, his fellow conservative Catholics will put party above church. “Rather than being Catholic Republicans, they’re going to be Republicans first and Catholics second,” he said. “If Bush vocally and loudly aligns himself with the pope, that’s a general election strategy, that’s not a primary strategy.”
There seems to be a lot about Jeb’s strategy that is more focused on the general election than the primary season. And it could definitely cost him the nomination. It’s probably the case that Jeb has decided that it’s not worth having the nomination if he has to give up any chance of beating Hillary Clinton in order to get it. And I don’t think his family wants to lose to the Clintons again. He wouldn’t be running if he didn’t have an idea for how to win, but his strategy to beat her may not be consistent with getting the chance to try.
Of course, Jeb is not the only Catholic Republican seeking the nomination, and the others are more established in the faith and more willing to create some distance from the pope. But that creates its own problems. They’re constantly on the defensive, and the party needs to maintain some appeal to the white Catholic vote because it is the Democrats’ strongest demographic among whites. The GOP also needs to repair some of the damage that they’ve done with the Latino vote, and the pope’s politics have a definite South American flavor and a natural appeal to Latin Americans and their American counterparts. Just as insulting President Obama only ramps up black turnout, creating separation from the pope can create separation from a lot of devout Latinos.
In any case, if the reason that you’re not okay with Pope Francis is because you don’t believe in evolution or climate change, want to maintain an embargo on Cuba, oppose contraception, and dislike gays, then you’re going to have growing political problems going forward.