Friday potpourri: Trump, Pope, Nevada, and me

     Left: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2015. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, file) Right: Pope Francis in 2015. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, file)

    Left: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2015. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, file) Right: Pope Francis in 2015. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, file)

    So now he’s fighting with the Pope. What’s next on his hit list, apple pie and pets? He’d better leave my doggie alone. That’s where I draw the line.

    Who among us predicted that the ’16 campaign would feature a tiff between a tinpot Mussolini and the global leader of Catholicism? Who among us could’ve foreseen this CNN bulletin: “BREAKING NEWS Standing By For Live Trump Response to Pope”? Whoever heard of a presidential candidate scrapping with the Pope on the eve of a primary contest? And who among us has crafted a pithier quip than Albert Brooks?

    Watching Trump fight with the Pope might be the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

    — Albert Brooks (@AlbertBrooks) February 18, 2016

    Trump started this whole thing last week, when he attacked Pope Francis’ plans to conduct a Mass in Mexico near the U.S. border. He said, “I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border …. I think Mexico got him to do it …. The Pope is a very political person.” The Pope did the Mass on Wednesday, and when subsequently asked to comment about Trump, he reportedly laughed: “Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as ‘animal politicus,’ so at least I’m a human person.”

    Trump didn’t react to that remark. (Who’s this guy Aristotle, anyway? Did he build a successful company?) But this papal remark really got under his thin skin: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. That is not in the Gospel.”

    Well. Only a low-energy person like Jeb would let that pass. Trump’s counterattack included an aerial photo of the walled Vatican compound (the Pope lives behind walls! therefore, he’s a hypocrite!), and a quasi-literate three-paragraph retort. (In the interests of clarity, the New Yorker has copy-edited the entire screed. Although in fairness to Trump, it’s hard to write clean copy when your knuckles are dragging along the ground.)

    After playing an ISIS card — if the Vatican got attacked, “the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president” — he basically said that the Pope hurt his feelings by calling him un-Christian: “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful …. No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”

    Um. Isn’t it part of the papal job description to define the faith? Isn’t that what a religious leader is supposed to do? And when Trump says that “no leader” should have the right to question another man’s religion … wait a sec, I seem to remember that Trump, only last week, tweeted this: “How can Ted Cruz be an Evangelical Christian when he lies so much and is so dishonest?”

    Will this scrap with the Pope hurt Trump in tomorrow’s South Carolina Republican primary? Trump said this morning, “You never know.” But I say: Doubtful. Roughly 60 percent of the voters will be non-Catholic evangelicals; either they dislike the Pope, or they don’t care. Most importantly, Trump has again buttressed his reality TV brand. What his credulous fans love most is that he doesn’t take crap from anybody.

    And if he’s jonesing to keep poking the Pope, I offer these talking points:

    “So what’s with that little cap he always wears? Very unattractive. My daughter puts a rag like that on her head, she’s not hot anymore. And that tall pointy hat he’s got — disgusting. I’d put it on Jeb, make him sit in the corner like a dunce. And worst of all, that robe? — gimme a break, ISIS would wipe its tush with that frickin’ schmatta. It’s sad. It’s sad.”

    Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are scrapping tomorrow night in Nevada. This is big. It’s a caucus, so nobody (least of all, the pollsters) has a clue how many Democrats will be motivated to participate — or what the racial mix will be. The latter factor is crucial. For the first time, we’ll see whether Bernie can slice into Hillary’s minority strength, especially among Hispanics. If Hillary can hold him off, she’ll be well positioned to win handily next weekend in South Carolina (she’s comfortably ahead in the SC polls). Bernie needs a win in Nevada, because the early March calendar seems inhospitable.

    Which reminds me: I’m writing Sunday morning about the Saturday results — Nevada Dems, South Carolina GOP — so tune in around noon.

    By the way, this week marks the 10th anniversary of my online column.

    That’s 2,500 posts, so far. People often ask me what it’s like to write so much…

    What’s the toughest part of the work?

    Making every deadline, every weekday morning. Especially when I’m sick or traveling or stuck with the hassles that all humans have.

    Is it hard to come up with a story idea?

    Not in this political climate. On any given day, there are 10.

    How long do you spend working on each column?

    Five hours work for a five minute read.

    What’s your favorite part of the work?

    The craft of writing. I’ll spend 15 minutes shaping one sentence. Writers care about stuff like this, way more than readers.

    Do you ever sit down and read the trolls on your comment board?

    Not even while standing up.

    You don’t care about being attacked?

    As political columnist Matt Bai says, “If I wanted to be popular, I’d drive an ice cream truck.”

    Do you have an assistant, anyone to help you out?

    No. But I frequently steal my wife’s funniest lines. She insisted I tell you that.

    How long will you keep doing the column?

    There’s a scene in the HBO war series “Band of Brothers” where the boys are marching in Holland. One weary guy asks how long they’ll keep going, and his pal answers, “Until they tell us to stop.”

    Well, nobody’s told me to stop. Which is good, because I still have lots of ammo.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.