Thursday, March 27, 2014

The President, the Pope, and a new challenge for the GOP

The President has just visited with the Pope.

Normally this would be pretty basic story. One leader paying homage to another. But not today. 

In this trip to the Vatican, President Obama has an eye to the November elections. 

Here's why it makes things difficult for the GOP.

First, with his emphasis on wealth inequality, Pope Francis has put the GOP in an uncomfortable identity position. By his words, Republicans have been forced to confront accusations that their social conservatism does not extend to the war on poverty (see Paul Ryan being challenged on Catholic TV). Conservatives are thus also being forced to balance their political faith in a more difficult relationship with American Catholicism - traditionally a strong voting bloc. At a thematic level, the Pope's inequality narrative will force the GOP to face up to new thinking in social politics (something I've previously written on here).

Second, Obama's visit has given him a major forum from which to assert his domestic inequality agenda. Post this visit, for example, you can be confident that the White House will employ a budding message - 'The Pope supports Obama, so shouldn't you?'. As an extension, Obama's visit will force the GOP to assert a countermanding, front page inequality narrative. While the GOP has such a narrative (again, Paul Ryan has done great work here), a campaign that focuses on poverty doesn't flow with the GOP's favored electoral strategy - focusing on ObamaCare as its core (perhaps even singular) issue. Regardless, recognizing the political power of Catholicism in America (especially among Hispanic American voters), the GOP knows that it cannot afford to repudiate the Pope with one liners.

For my own thoughts, the GOP should focus its response in two areas - rebutting the assumed social utility of a welfare state and providing serious health care alternatives. 

My thoughts on these concerns can be found here, here and here.

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