- - Sunday, February 21, 2016

Is this a wild and wonderful presidential campaign, with entertainment for all, or what? Donald Trump keeps writing the script with surprise following shock following occasional thunderbolt. The Donald may be the first presidential candidate ever to take on the pope and emerge without scars. Pope Francis, after all, retreated before the Donald did.

The man who went after political correctness with the jawbone of an ass, and made it unfashionable but for the terminally timid in the sheltered redoubts of the campus, thus expands the limits again of what a free man can say. He insults former presidents, haughty prime ministers and whole countries, and suffers only prolonged applause. We’ll miss him like the seven-year-itch when he’s gone.

The pope was on his way home from Cuba, where he embraced the Castro brothers — killers of priests and suppressors of the pope’s own faith — and he was no doubt eager to defend the wants and wishes of the millions of Latin Americans who are desperate to get out of Latin America. When a reporter, relaxing with the pontiff on the pontifical jetliner, asked him what he thought of Mr. Trump’s idea to build a wall to keep illegal immigrants on the Latin side of the Rio Grande, the pontiff let him have both barrels.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, is not Christian,” he said. He would give such a sinner the benefit of the doubt because he doesn’t know all the construction details, “but I say only that this man is not a Christian if he said things like that.”

Well, Mr. Trump had said things like that, and more besides. Since he’s a Presbyterian, he can show no deference to a papal judgment of who’s a Christian and who’s not, and the Donald’s familiar umbrage came as an adder’s sting. “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” he said. “I am proud to be a Christian, and as president I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened.”

The Vatican gave His Holiness a little help the next day, sending a spokesman trained in the public relations arts to dampen a fire that the secular media couldn’t wait to refuel. “This wasn’t in any way a personal attack or an indication who to vote for,” he said, though some Christians might say that questioning the salvation of a man’s soul might be at least a little personal. The clarification that didn’t clarify much was good enough for the Donald, who makes no claim of mastery of the fine (or even basic) points of theology. He respects the pope, he said, and “he has a lot of personality.”

The pope’s PR handlers insisted that the pope was talking of “building bridges, not walls,” or at least merely dealing in cliches and happy talk. Soon the presidential candidates joined the conversation, several of whom the pope had read out of the faith because they, too, support building a wall. Even the mild-mannered Jeb, who recently traded his Episcopalian faith for the Roman Catholic, said he supports “appropriate” fencing and, anyway, he doesn’t take his cues from the pope on “economic or environmental policy.” Marco Rubio, a devout Catholic, pointedly observed that “Vatican City has a right to control its borders, and so does the United States.” Ted Cruz, a Southern Baptist preacher’s son who is usually eager to talk to the cameras, was eager to let this one go. “That’s between Donald and the pope,” he said. “I’m not going to get in the middle of them.”

By now the skeptics and infidels were in the full voice big time. The Internet was alight with photographs of the massive brick-and-stone wall surrounding the Vatican, with observations about the difficulty any immigrant would have in breaching the gates. The wild and wonderful presidential campaign grinds on.

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