IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Why Trump's fight with Pope Francis matters

At a key moment in the campaign, Donald Trump said, "I don't like fighting with the pope," but he did it anyway. The question now are the effects of the fight.
Pope Francis arrives to his Wednesday's General Audience in St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, on Dec. 3, 2014. (L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO/EPA)
Pope Francis arrives to his Wednesday's General Audience in St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, on Dec. 3, 2014.
The first sign of trouble came last summer. Donald Trump complained that Pope Francis is "very political" and fails to recognize the possibility of ISIS invading the Vatican. More recently, the Republican presidential hopeful repeated the criticisms, saying about the Pontiff, "I don't think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico."
By the way, we don't have an open border with Mexico.

Pope Francis has a message for Donald Trump: building a wall on the Mexican border is "not Christian." The pontiff delivered that message Thursday during a news conference on his flight back to the Vatican from Mexico. "A person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian," the Buenos Aires-born pontiff said when asked about Trump's now infamous promises to erect a wall aimed at keeping Mexicans out of the U.S.

The pope emphasized that his comments were not intended to tell voters who they should or shouldn't vote for.
As Rachel noted on the show last night, Trump, who doesn't take kindly to criticism, was less than pleased with Francis' comments. The GOP candidate said at a forum last night, "I don't like fighting with the pope," which may be true, but Trump did so anyway.

Donald Trump issued a blistering response to Pope Francis on Thursday, saying it is "disgraceful" for the Catholic leader to question his faith and calling the pontiff "a pawn" for the Mexican government. "No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man's religion or faith," Trump said at a rally in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. A press release followed shortly after he read the statement at the podium.

The statement was, as expected, a doozy.
I saw some suggestions yesterday that this might be politically problematic for Trump, ahead in the polls with just one day remaining before the South Carolina primary. The Republican frontrunner has picked plenty of fights over the last several months, but maybe an offensive against the pope will cost Trump votes?
It's possible, but I wouldn't count on it. At least in the short term, South Carolina Republicans are dominated by evangelical Protestants, who have little use for Francis' thoughts on immigration.
What's more, from a slightly broader perspective, it's easy to imagine yesterday's back and forth actually helping Trump: it kept him in the spotlight the day after the state Republican establishment rallied behind Marco Rubio, knocking the senator off front pages, and it reminded far-right voters in South Carolina that Trump is an unyielding supporter of a border wall, a controversial position they support.
As the day progressed, several prominent religious right figures came to Trump's defense, as did radio host Rush Limbaugh.
Those who argued yesterday, "This time, he's really done it," will probably be disappointed by the effects of yesterday's brouhaha.