A top political analyst thinks the pope could pose a major problem for the Republican Party as its candidates seek to reclaim the White House in 2016.
Greg Valliere, the chief political strategist at the nonpartisan Potomac Research Group, wrote in his Wednesday morning newsletter that “the GOP versus the Pope will be a big story in the next year.”
“Republicans have to tread carefully,” Valliere said.
As The New York Times documented the day before, Pope Francis’ “highly anticipated, highly controversial encyclical on the environment” is set to be released Thursday and could challenge Republican candidates who reject the science of human-caused climate change.
The Times’s Coral Davenport reported that two of the most prominent GOP presidential contenders — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) — attend a Catholic church in Miami that plans to heavily focus on the pope’s environmental message. Both candidates have reportedly “questioned or denied the established science” on the issue.
Several other Catholic presidential candidates have either announced their campaigns for the Republican nomination or are expected to do so, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), former New York Gov. George Pataki (R), and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania).
According to Valliere and The Times, these candidates and others could be in a quandry in how they deal with one of the most outspoken popes in modern history. Pope Francis has enthralled liberals by championing several of their issues, including denouncing trickle-down economics and striking a softer tone on homosexuality.
“This story has been brewing for weeks, as Pope Francis prepares to issue an encyclical tomorrow that will focus on climate change,” Valliere wrote. “The pontiff embraces Latin American ‘liberation theology’ that is militantly anti-capitalist, and that poses a big problem for most GOP presidential candidates. Should they criticise him?”
Davenport reported that Rubio has not yet commented on the encyclical, which “is among the strongest and most authoritative statements made by the Catholic Church.” However, Bush has repeatedly discussed the upcoming church document.
Speaking in Washington, Iowa, on Wednesday, Bush stressed that his hometown of Miami is going to be heavily affected by climate change. However, he argued that the government needs to be careful and make sure its environmental policies don’t result in job losses or damage the economy.
Bush also said that he doesn’t look to his church when it comes to policymaking.
“I’m not denying that the climate’s changing,” he said. “Look, I go to church to have my faith nourished, to have my faith challenged. I think Pope Francis is an extraordinary leader of the church,” he said. “It doesn’t need to get any more complicated than that. That’s why I go to mass. I don’t go to mass for economic policy or for things in politics. I’ve got another people helping me along the way with that.”
Santorum, who heavily emphasises his Catholic faith, has made more aggressive statements than Bush on the issue. The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this month that Santorum said Pope Francis should leave “science to the scientists.”
“I would just say this: The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality,” the former senator said.
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