Election 2016

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

The 2016 presidential campaign is getting underway.


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.

As the candidates and the campaigns formulate their responses to questions from the public and the press about the pope, they'll want to look to three places.

The first place is the Constitution, which in its text — not even in an amendment, but right there in Article VI — says that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." That's been read, correctly, in my view, as an emphatic suggestion that voters select officeholders using criteria other than a candidate's religious beliefs or practices.

The second place is history, and in particular to the tale of our only Catholic president, John Kennedy, surmounting anti-Catholic bigotry to win the Democratic nomination and the general election in 1960. Harry Truman's reported quip about John Kennedy and Ambassador Joseph Kennedy — "It's not the pope I'm afraid of, it's the pop" — may resonate with Republican voters who haven't forgiven Jeb Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, for raising income-tax rates.

The third place to seek guidance on these matters is conscience. For most modern American adults, religion is a matter not of blind obedience but of independent choice — choice of the sort that Jeb Bush himself made in becoming a Catholic as an adult. Religion may inform politics on general matters such as human dignity or even on specifics such as immigration or support for vouchers that would allow students to escape public schools to attend parochial schools. But it won't always dictate a politician's decisions on issues such as Cuba or climate change, where a Vatican view might conflict either with political reality or with a candidate's sincerely held ideology or longstanding policy positions.

If Jeb Bush manages to articulate this third point in a way that makes sense, it may even attract some voters who see how it can apply beyond religion, to other institutions and leaders that deserve respect but also the skepticism of independent thinking. Like, say, the political parties and their platforms themselves, which in certain circles approach their own quasi-religious status. It may seem like wishful thinking, but if there were ever a time for that, it's now — the campaign is just getting under way.

NEXT: Why Libertarians and Conservatives Clash Over the Meaning of the Constitution

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  1. America the Dynasty? Is this Clinton vs Bush crap really true or have I finally just gone insane from all of this stupidity….

    1. You arenot insane, just watching a Republic of decrepitude if it cannot find leadrship outsode of those two families.

      1. “die of decrepitude”

      2. “Republic of Decrepitude” would be an excellent band name. Horrible state of affairs, but an excellent band name.

    2. I keep hearing that the GOP has a “deep bench” yet a Bush retread is comfortably ahead of the field.

      1. Who on earth is saying that? But then again I suppose you have a deeper bench when you don’t start excluding people based on their name.

        1. John does. Yes, I know he is Mr. Team Red on repeat.

          If Republican challenger Mitt Romney doesn’t emerge triumphant on Election Day, the party will have a deep bench of contenders to draw from in 2016. Here is a list of the top 10 to watch.


          1. I suppose one could read that to mean there’s no anointed one, but a cluster fuck of possibilities.

      2. I think it might be more of a wide bench than a deep one.

        1. Well, gotta make room for Chris Christie, so….


      3. Whether a deep bench is good news or not depends on what it’s deep in.

    3. Since 2000 I’ve been proposing a Constitutional Amendment banning any spouse, child, or sibling of a president or congressman from holding office.

      No support.

  2. That’s been read, correctly, in my view, as an emphatic suggestion that voters select officeholders using criteria other than a candidate’s religious beliefs or practices.

    But then voters get to use whatever criteria they want in choosing a president.

  3. If I may complain about Obama for a moment, I’d like to point out that if the 2008 ticket was Clinton/Obama, Obama would be poised to win the White House in 2016 without us even having to wonder about who the Republicans are running.

    As it is, we have to worry about whether they’ll run a Bush again.

    Isn’t there a Nixon out there who needs a job?

  4. Nobody gives a shit if you are a Papist anymore, do they?

    How did Jeb end up being a Catholic?

    1. How did Jeb end up being a Catholic?

      Latina pussy.

      1. It was worth a Mass.

        1. Missed opportunity. It should be dat ass is worth a mass.

      2. Are all Bushes required to convert to their wives’ religion?

  5. Jeb Bush and the Making of a $236 Million Federal Contract


    He has that magic Bush touch!

  6. Um, do people care about one’s religious affiliation anymore?…. well, as long as you claim to believe Jesus Christ was the Messiah?

    Can’t imagine a Jew, Muslim, Hindu, etc. (or, God forbid, an atheist), getting close to the Oval Office any time soon…

    1. It’s not that people will care about the fact that he’s Catholic, it’s that with Pope Francis making more liberal statements on things like climate change, capitalism, etc., people will ask Bush whether he agrees more with the Pope or with his fellow conservatives on those matters.

      1. There are a lot of very liberal/leftist Jesuits.

        They may be great on Theological scholarships, but they tend to know shit about economics.

        1. Catholic countries are almost all basket cases economically.

    2. An out-loud atheist anyways, I am sure plenty of politicians (current prez included) are basically atheists who put the God hat on during campaign cycles to settle the unwashed masses.

      1. Ah, the Augustus model. A classic.

        1. Don’t fix what ain’t broken.

    3. When the Pope’s making a lot of left-wing statements, and as a Catholic you believe him to be the conduit between God and humanity, you better believe it’s relevant if you’re running in an election on opposing political values.

    4. You’re kidding about the Muslim inclusion, right?

      I heard an interview with Jeremiah Wright, which surprised me as he did not come across as a loon. He was actually quite bright. In it he was asked if Obama was/is a Muslim. The interviewer, and I think it was NBC, was shocked when JW said, ‘Obama is a Muslim. I thought I had converted him, during our time together, but I hadn’t’. The interviewer was incredulous and said, ‘but he goes to Church, how can you say he’s a Muslim?’, and JW said, ‘he did it for Michelle, and because he knew no Muslim could be elected President’.

  7. Polls this early are ridiculous. At best they measure current name recognition before there are any actual campaigns and focus on the field. Of course Bushes and Clintons do well.

    1. I wish it meant that Bushes and Clinton’s didn’t do well.

      1. Hilary doesn’t really fit the dynastic mode. The ‘wife taking her husband’s place’ thing has been around for decades (see Lurleen Wallace).

        However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another Kennedy nominated in my lifetime. And maybe Chelsea Clinton will get the urge to run someday.

        On the Republican side, we have the Romneys, Rockefellers and Bushes.

        The Roosevelts are a special case, with one on each side.

      2. +10000000 for Scottsman’s incisiveness.

  8. “Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the House majority whip, acknowledged Monday that he spoke at a gathering hosted by white nationalist leaders while serving as a state representative in 2002”


    1. 2002? So Robert Byrd headlined?

      1. I hear one of the white nationalist leaders tried to frame a guy for rape and then incited a mob against a Jew.

  9. No worries — This is one of those ‘pre-declaration’ polls that really has no validity. It’s just like those polls showing Hillary whipping everyone’s ass. It’s only because she hasn’t declared. Once Jeb and Hillary declare, reality will set in and all the negatives will arise.

  10. Eight years of Obumbles followed by Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney. Commie Pope endorses Global Warming Scam.

    I know what it is. I was in a car accident and I am in a coma and just don’t realize it. This is all a bizarro nightmare from which I will awake any minute now……thats it, right?

    *pinches self*

    1. Or Obama isn’t that bad, Romney would have been centrist, and climate change is real.

      Occam’s Razor suggests that the hypothesis with the fewest required assumptions is the more logical bet. You have the choice of everyone else, politicians, popes, scientists, being wrong and you right, or that perhaps you are mistaken. The fewest assumptions suggests you are wrong.

  11. I like the Pope. His reading of economics is highly misinformed, but I think he means what he says.

    As for 2016, let me just say that if it comes down to Bush III versus Clinton II, foreign policy will be moot, just like it was in 2012. Depressing.

    1. Eh, I miss John ‘Fuck the Commies’ Paul II. Not Catholic though, so it’s not like my opinion matters all that much.

    2. He seems like a nice and sincere guy, but as a world leader (which he effectively is) he’s probably not helping. The Catholic church should stick to education and hospitals and stuff like that and stay away from politics and economics.

      1. Imagine the Church deciding that.

        SISTER ANN: “We’re just running our own school, we don’t want anything to do with politics.”

        GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR: “Excellent! Now, based on our party’s victory at the last election we’re increasing the taxes on your kids’ parents, and we’re forcing them to give the money to other schools. And I hope you’ve added that Joys of Sex course to your curriculum as our regulations require.”


        SISTER PRUDENCE: “We just want to run our own hospitals, not to meddle in politics.”

        GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR: “That’s wonderful, now about that million-dollar fine we imposed on you for failing to cover your staff’s birth control…”

        1. Well, that should be what the church wants to do. Sometimes they might have to make some noise. Freedom of religion is supposed to stop that stuff, but we know how broken that concept is. In theory, having lawyers should solve those problems in the US at least.
          I’m talking out my ass a bit here, but I suspect that the current Pope might be OK with governments forcing organizations to pay for particular pharmaceuticals.

          1. Hmmm…I don’t know.

      2. Kind of hard to do that when the government insists on forcing religious institutions to engage in activities which violate their principles.

        Food is an actual human need. I wonder how liberals would react if the government tried to force a Muslim business-owner to provide his employees with pork. And I ask this as a Muslim.

  12. While Article VI is vital, we also need to keep in mind Amendment I. Article VI prevents a religious test in the form of legislation that would state what religion office holders can or cannot be. For instance, there are laws prohibiting atheists from holding office in several states, which are unenforceable because of Article VI. There is no law and really can be no law (not enforceable) on what criteria voters use. Just be clear, voters can use whatever reasons they wish to choose their candidate.

    Amendment I has two clauses, free expression and Establishment. Jeb is free to speak about his faith and express it through action as an individual. While President he is forbidden from establishing Catholicism in any way. This is the concern. Will Catholic rules regarding birth control or homosexuality be Established, which violates the Free Expression rights of citizens who disagree? This is not about Jeb the man and his catholic faith. This is about the Presidency and Catholicism, and the rights of everyone who disagrees with the Vatican on a range of issues.

  13. For those Hobby Lobby drum beaters:

    Congress wrote the ACA to protect individual rights, that corporations cannot restrict rights. Hobby Lobby was correct to challenge the law in the Courts. The Supreme Court ruled corporations have rights like people, but even still employees have rights. SCOTUS chose a middle ground, tilting conservative but not completely. Hobby Lobby in essence asked the Judicial branch to rule on what constituted religious behavior, the question itself posing Establishment problems. The Court broke new ground but mainly in order to sidestep, which minimized Establishment problems and maximized Expression rights, by ruling corporations could be treated the same as religious institutions. It also ruled that a mechanism protecting both employer and employee rights must be provided, equating corporations with religious institutions. The Hobby Lobby decision was ruled in favor of religious conservatives, but managed to protect others too.

    According to Hobby Lobby decision, the radical, false contraception position some Catholics take is absurd. Employees must be protected from Catholic beliefs ruling non-Catholics. Jeb, if elected, will be required by his Oath to protect the rights of non-Catholics to act against Catholic teachings. Jeb will be required to side against his Church to protect Americans from Catholic Establishment. The majority of SCOTUS is Catholic (not plurality, majority), and they threaded this needle rather adroitly.

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