How Will Jeb Bush Handle the ‘Catholic Question’ on the Campaign Trail?

by Ira Stoll  |  published on January 9, 2015

A new poll shows the former governor of Florida, brother of President Bush 43 and son of President Bush 41, leading the field of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates. The poll comes just as Pope Francis is moving assertively, and some might say clumsily, on the public policy front, inspiring the deal between Havana and Washington to renew full diplomatic relations and preparing a papal encyclical on climate change.

Over the weekend, one of the shrewdest editors in American journalism, Matt Drudge, was linking to a Breitbart rewrite of a 2013 Miami Herald story. The Breitbart and Drudge headlines were about Jeb Bush’s admiration for the legislative tactics of President Lyndon Johnson, but the stories also carried Bush’s comments linking Bush’s position on the immigration issue to the teaching of his own Catholic Church. In his 2013 speech at Saint Leo University, Bush said, according to the Herald’s account, “To me ­— and I’m here at this great Catholic institution and this is what my church teaches me — it is completely un-American to require people living in the shadows.”

Anyone worried that Pope Francis’s outspoken liberalism will sway Bush away from conservative principles may be reassured by the former Florida governor’s statement reacting to President Obama’s renewal of full diplomatic relations with Cuba. Bush denounced the deal as “ill-advised,” a “foreign-policy misstep” that “undermines America’s credibility and undermines the quest for a free and democratic Cuba.” The statement was framed as a criticism of President Obama, but implicit in it was a distancing from the foreign policy of Pope Francis.

Bush is hardly the only potential 2016 presidential candidate who may face questions about Pope Francis. Other Catholic Republicans include a former senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum; a senator from Florida, Marco Rubio; the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, and the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie. On the Democratic side, Andrew Cuomo and Vice President Biden are both Catholics.

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