Speaking before a large audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis taunted Donald Trump yet again without calling him out by name. The first time the pope targeted Trump was in Philadelphia during his 2015 visit to the United States. This time the dig came as the pontiff spoke to a large group of the faithful gathered in Ciudad Juarez, a Mexican city on the U.S. border. As the pope’s Trump-directed taunts continue, will the votes of America’s Catholics reflect his negative opinion of the GOP front-runner?
The reasons behind the pope’s taunts are Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration and apparent distrust of Latin-American immigrants. Since joining the Republican race, Trump has never wavered on the immigration issue, calling for an impenetrable wall at the U.S.-Mexican border. Similarly, he has never wavered in his belief that “the worst elements in Mexico” are illegally crossing into the United States.
During Pope Francis’ speech in Philadelphia last September, the South American native spoke words of encouragement directly to America’s Hispanic Catholics. According to a Breitbart report on the papal appearance, the pope urged his flock to “not feel discouraged by all the challenges and hardships you might face.” While encouraging immigrants by speaking of the gifts they brought to the United States, he also reminded them of their responsibilities to their new country as both citizens and contributors. The pope’s encouragement was in direct opposition to a statement Trump had made only two months before, in July 2015, when he labeled immigrants “criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”
Prior to the pontiff’s latest immigration-related speech, Politico published a report on Trump’s criticism of Pope Francis that occurred during a Feb. 11 call to “Varney & Company.”
“So I think that the pope is a very political person. I think that he doesn’t understand the problems our country has. I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico. Mexico got him to do it because Mexico wants to keep the border just the way it is because they’re making a fortune and we’re losing.”
On February 16, the day before the pope’s scheduled visit to the U.S.-Mexican border, Rev. Federico Lombardi, a spokesman for the Vatican, released a statement to the Associated Press refuting Trump’s claim that the pope is an instrument of the Mexican government.
“The pope always talks about migration problems all around the world, of the duties we have to solve these problems in a humane manner, of hosting those who come from other countries in search of a life of dignity and peace.”
Trump’s criticism did not alter the pope’s message, nor did it stop further taunts. During his Wednesday visit, Pope Francis spoke to the thousands assembled in Juarez, onlookers crowded along the border fence and the crowd gathered at an El Paso stadium, where the papal appearance was being broadcast live. In this speech, he demonstrated an understanding of the conditions pushing Mexicans and other Latin Americans to leave their home countries in search of better lives in the United States, acknowledging that they are being forced out “by poverty and violence, by drug trafficking and criminal organizations.”
As the pope continues to issue taunts directed at Trump, America’s Catholic conservatives may very well begin to question Trump’s candidacy. Prior to the pope’s U.S. visit in September 2015, The Washington Times published the results of a Rasmussen Reports poll that found Pope Francis had a 60 percent approval rating in the United States. Such a high approval rating indicates Americans of all faiths have respect for both the pope and his opinions. For U.S. Catholics, the pope’s influence is even greater.
To fully understand the impact the pope’s taunts could have on the Republican party nomination and the presidential election itself, one has to look at the number of Catholics in the United States. According to statistics from Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, church records show 66.6 million parish-affiliated Catholics in the United States. The same set of statistics shows an estimated 13.1 million additional Americans self-identify as Catholic, even though they are not associated with specific parishes.
Pew Research Center published statistics after the 2012 election that show the Democratic and Republican parties have shared the Catholic vote nearly equally in the last four presidential elections. However, white Catholics have repeatedly favored the Republican candidate, if only marginally, while between 65 and 75 percent of Hispanic Catholics have voted for the Democratic candidate.
Statistics from past elections seem to indicate that a Republican candidate is likely to receive half of the white Catholic vote and 25 to 33 percent of the Hispanic Catholic vote. However, with Trump’s stance on immigration and attitude toward immigrants, along with Pope Francis’ taunts, it seems likely that Trump’s chance of receiving the expected amount of support from Hispanic Catholics is dwindling. As for the votes of white Catholics, if the battle between Pope Francis and Trump continues, it could very well have an effect on Trump’s chance at the Republican nomination and the presidency.
[Photo by Gregorio Borgia/AP Images]