Pope Francis just tried to shame Donald Trump. The takeaway: Never try to shame Donald Trump. It doesn't work.
In what was supposed to be a bad thing, Francis said Trump's views on immigration and his plan to build a US-Mexico wall showed that he was "not Christian." The remarks come just two days before the South Carolina Republican primary, but Trump seemed unfazed by the possibility of negative publicity.
"If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened," Trump said in reaction to the pope's remarks.
And Trump's own supporters probably won't mind much, either. The Christian base in South Carolina is evangelical, not Catholic. And previous attacks on Trump's faith haven't hurt him in any case.
Here's National Journal's Josh Kraushaar's comments from an event in South Carolina:
Asked one attendee at Trump event what she thought of Trump's Pope comments. "That was shocking to hear. (pause). From the Pope."— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) February 18, 2016
Perhaps even more important, the pope's comments are buying Trump free airtime in the final two days before the primary — overshadowing Marco Rubio, who is surging and just picked up a big endorsement from Gov. Nikki Haley.
There is no question that this pope drama has people paying even more attention to Trump. Noah Rothman, an editor at Commentary Magazine, has long attributed Trump's rise to the news cycle, noting that this pope debacle is no different.
The Pope just handed Trump a news cycle he dominates on a platter. Robbed Rubio of full day of Haley coverage in SC.— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) February 18, 2016
And already Trump's supporters are rallying to his defense. Evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University who endorsed Trump before the Iowa caucuses, said the pope had overstepped his religious duty.
"Jesus never intended to give instructions to political leaders on how to run a country," Falwell told CNN.
While Trump's faith made headlines earlier in the election cycle (when he wouldn't tell Bloomberg reporters his favorite part of the Bible), the GOP frontrunner has gained a reputation for speaking his mind on immigration, from the US-Mexico border to banning all Muslims from entering the country. Los Angeles Times national reporter Matt Pearce says these past antics are why this back and forth with the pope probably won't impact his voter base too much.
If Trump supporters were on board for torture, Muslim bans, questioning John McCain as war hero, they're probably fine with Pope criticism.— Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) February 18, 2016
As BuzzFeed political reporter Andrew Kaczynski puts it quite simply, Trump's go at the pope is typical of the candidate.
May seem hypocritical Trump's attacking pope after attacking Cruz's faith last week but context is important. specifically, nothing matters.— andrew kaczynski (@BuzzFeedAndrew) February 18, 2016
Trump, who is currently campaigning in North Charleston, South Carolina, said he still respects the pope, according to a report from the Washington Post's Jenna Johnson. After all, when once asked whom he would want on Celebrity Apprentice back in 2014, Trump said none other than the pope.
Certainly, Trump was already looking likely to pick up a victory this weekend. Clashing with the rock star pope could make it even bigger.
Trump was probably on track to win SC big; *now* if he wins it big, it will be after standing up to the Pope & therefore even YUGER— Mark Halperin (@MarkHalperin) February 18, 2016