Republicans’ Comments Put Them on Other Side of Pope’s Visiting Message

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 12.50.31 PMMAGGIE HABERMAN  Monday, September 21, 2015

Good Monday morning. Pope Francis has delivered an encyclical calling for increased action against climate change, denounced the role of global capitalism in increasing poverty, and enthusiastically supported the new nuclear accord with Iran, positions that have caused tensions in the Republican Party. Now the pope, whom American Catholics overwhelmingly support, arrives in the United States as Republicans wrestle with these issues and with perceptions of intolerance.

The pope visits Washington this week, presumably bringing the message of tolerance that he has espoused throughout his tenure, including in the face of extremism.

Yet this week in the race to replace President Obama began with one of the top Republican presidential hopefuls, Ben Carson, suggesting that having a Muslim president would be a bridge too far and that it wasn’t a concept he was comfortable with.

Not one of the presidential candidates is Muslim. But questions about tolerance of Muslims arose last week, when an attendee at a rally for Donald J. Trump insisted that Mr. Obama, who is Christian and was born in Hawaii, was a Muslim who was not an American. Then the attendee asked when the country could be rid of Muslims. Mr. Trump did not correct the questioner and said he was looking into the issue.

Mr. Trump has since defended himself on Twitter and elsewhere, and told CNN over the weekend, “I love the Muslims.” But Mr. Trump, who called his supporters “passionate” after two men accused of beating a homeless man cited his caustic words on immigration, has also said he has no moral obligation to correct other people.
While Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida distanced themselves on Sunday from Mr. Carson and Mr. Trump, the tenor of the debate seems to have reached a new level in a race where resentment over demographic changes has led to a romanticizing of the dwindling white working class comprising the Republican base.
The pope’s visit has the potential to stand in stark contrast to the discourse of the 2016 race. And it could refocus the political discussion, as anger among voters seems poised at times to boil over.