Jeb Bush and The Pope
Posted on June 24, 2015
(This originally appeared in The Hill)
Jeb Bush is the Pope Francis of the Republican field.
Like Francis, Bush represents the establishment. For the 2016 hopeful, it’s the Republican establishment, while for Francis, it’s the Catholic Church, the biggest of the Christian denominations.
Like Francis, Bush cares about the plight of the poor. The pope mused early in his papacy, “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” Bush has taken a different tack, but his “right to rise” campaign is all about getting people out of poverty.
Both Francis and Bush have attempted to find common ground with gay people. Francis famously asked, “Who am I to judge?” when responding to a question about homosexuality, while Bush said people should “show respect” for gays in committed relationships and accept court rulings that allow for same-sex marriage.
Both Francis and Bush are profoundly pro-life. Bush went to great lengths to combat abortion when he was governor of Florida, and one of the most under-discussed aspects of the pope’s recent encyclical on climate change was his strong anti-abortion message.
Both Francis and Bush are distrusted by talk radio. Rush Limbaugh famously called the pope a Marxist and a socialist because he cares about the poor and is worried about climate change. And whereas he once said that Bush is a conservative, the radio host now says the candidate is not. Mark Levin called him an “old-time liberal Republican.” Of course, Bush’s talk radio problem is worrisome for him because he has to run in a GOP primary. Francis couldn’t care less what Limbaugh thinks.
Both Francis and Bush are seen as moderates by the conservatives in their organizations. With Francis, that is probably more accurate, although on most key church doctrines, the pope is far more consistent with predecessors Benedict and John Paul II than the media wants to acknowledge. Bush governed as a true conservative in Florida, yet his embrace of comprehensive immigration reform and enhanced education standards at the state level has driven the hard right crazy.
Francis and Bush are happy warriors. Bush promised to campaign “joyfully,” and Francis would agree: “And here the first word that I wish to say to you: joy! Do not be men and women of sadness: A Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement!”
They share a cultural affinity as well. Francis reflects the attitudes and experiences of someone growing up in Latin America. Bush’s wife, Columba, was born in Mexico, and as a result, his Spanish is flawless.
Of course, there are profound differences between the two.
Francis has already been elected, by the College of Cardinals, to oversee a church made up of a billion Catholics. Bush has to endure a grinding campaign to get elected to lead the most powerful nation on Earth.
Francis bursts with charisma. Bush? Not so much.
The pope’s climate change encyclical went too far for Bush, and the presumed front-runner for the nomination questioned whether Francis was going outside his lane in issuing it.
And of course, Francis is wildly popular with the great bulk of the American people, getting approval ratings well above that of any U.S. politician. Jeb is still trying to gain traction with voters, who aren’t quite sure they want to put another Bush in the White House.
The pope will be traveling to Washington later this year. It’s unclear whether he will meet with any presidential hopefuls, but it is clear he won’t be weighing in on the candidate he wants to win.
Should Bush and Francis meet, I bet they would have a pretty good conversation (in Spanish), and agree on a lot more than they disagree on, despite their differences.