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Politics & Current Affairs

Is Pope Francis More Republican or Democrat?

Prepare to watch Democrats and Republicans fight over ownership of the pope and his air of moral legitimacy: Let the Great American Papal Tug-of-War begin!

Unless you live beneath a rock (and if you do, more power to you, I guess), you’re fully aware that Pope Francis is visiting the United States this week for the first time, much to the simultaneous excitement and fright of both conservatives and liberals. You should expect every word to come out of the pope’s mouth to be stretched and dissected five times over as Republicans and Democrats fight over just exactly whose pope he is. Both sides are desperate to co-opt the popular pontiff so you should expect to see Francis treated as a toy to be fought over by political children over the next few days.

All things considered, it’s pretty much business as usual.

Why are the two American political establishments fighting over poor ol’ Papa Frank? First, because he’s insanely popular among Americans despite the fact the Church itself remains decidedly less so. The whole “God’s representative on Earth” thing tends to lend to those who can associate with him an air of moral legitimacy — even in the eyes of non-believers. Simply put: The pope’s the cool kid on the playground right now and everyone wants to be friends with the cool kid.

Why are the two American political establishments fighting over poor ol’ Papa Frank?

Second reason: Francis is in many ways a ball of ambiguity — and that makes America’s political leadership crazy. The pope’s popularity stems from the political and social diversity of his beliefs. He holds a variety of stances that are both sacred and anathema to Republicans and Democrats, each in their own way. For example, Francis is anti-abortion, but also too often accused of being a Marxist. He’s a major advocate in the fight against climate change, but also isn’t about to start marrying gay people.

Is the Pope more aligned with Republicans or Democrats? It’s not an easy question to approach and it’s the sort of thing that makes the major American political parties uncomfortable. These folks want Republicans to be Republicans and Democrats to be Democrats. Easy. Simple. Done. When someone as beloved as Francis arrives at the doorstep threatening to straddle the line, each side’s spin doctors and narrative hounds are bound to try and shift the story to co-opt him for their own side. “He’s ours,” shout the Democrats. “No, he’s ours,” shout the Republicans.

Branding and leadership expert Charlene Li explains how Francis has harnessed social media to engage with a previously dispirited audience.


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