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Opinion Donald Trump’s predictable holy war with Pope Francis

Here's how the February fight between Pope Francis and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump played out. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

The outsized narcissism, hair-trigger reaction to criticism and the paper-thin policy pronouncements of Donald Trump have grown oh so tiresome. In the space of one day, the GOP presidential front-runner showed his high self-regard knows no bounds.

During an MSNBC town hall with Trump on Wednesday, co-host Mika Brzezinski played a guessing game with him.

Brzezinski: I wanted to describe a political candidate to you. The candidate is considered a political outsider by all the pundits. He’s tapping into the anger of the voters, delivers a populist message. He believes everyone in the country should have health care,” she told Trump. “He advocates for hedge fund managers to pay higher taxes. He’s drawing thousands of people at his rallies and bringing in a lot of new voters to the political process, and he’s not beholden to any super PAC. Who am I describing?
Trump: Or any special interest or any donors. You’re describing Donald Trump.
Brzezinski: Actually, I was describing Bernie Sanders.

You’re so vain,” sings Carly Simon in her stinging 1972 hit. “I’ll bet you think this song is about you. Don’t you? don’t you?” It was impossible for me not to think of those lyrics.

The similarities between the democratic socialist senator from Vermont who is in the hunt for the Democratic presidential nomination and the Big Apple billionaire are quite striking. I could see how someone not named Trump or Sanders would fall for the gag. But it is telling that Trump is so enamored with himself that he could not see the set-up from a mile away, especially since the question came in the “few final moments with Mr. Trump,” as Brzezinski said. Trump looked genuinely surprised the song wasn’t about him.

Speaking of surprise, no one in America should be surprised when Trump launches rhetorical missiles at people who dare take issue with him or his policy positions. But when he went after Pope Francis on Thursday, there was a collective “WTH?!”

Pope Francis said Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is "not Christian" because of his views on immigration Feb. 18. (Video: Reuters)

After a visit to Mexico that included a trip to the border with the United States, a reporter asked the pontiff about Trump and his promise to build a wall to stop the flow of migrants into the U.S.

Reporter: Can a good Catholic vote for this man?
Pope Francis: A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.

There are a lot of caveats in Francis’s comment — “If he said things like that” and “I give the benefit of the doubt.” And he even demurred on telling Catholics how to vote. Still, there are no doubt Americans, millions of whom flooded streets just catch a glimpse of him here five months ago, who love the pope who are wondering why he would insert himself into the presidential campaign in that manner.

Now, here’s something else to consider. Yes, the pope is the head of the Catholic Church. Thus, his plea for compassion for immigrants is rooted in faith and no different than what he told Congress last September. But Francis is also a head of state, which makes his eyebrow raising comments, particularly about Trump’s faith, a potential breach of protocol. And when viewed through this lens, Trump’s predictable flame-throwing of the pope was a disaster.

[How Trump is ‘defining deviancy down’ in presidential politics]

The proper response by a prospective leader of the free world would go something like this: I have great admiration for Pope Francis, but I don’t agree with him. If I am so lucky as to have the privilege of being president of the United States, my primary job would be to protect all aspects of the lives of our citizens. Whatever conflict that might place me in with my Christian faith would be between me and the Heavenly Father through prayer.  

Instead, Trump released this statement.

If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened. ISIS would have been eradicated unlike what is happening now with our all talk, no action politicians.
The Mexican government and its leadership has made many disparaging remarks about me to the Pope, because they want to continue to rip off the United States, both on trade and at the border, and they understand I am totally wise to them. The Pope only heard one side of the story – he didn’t see the crime, the drug trafficking and the negative economic impact the current policies have on the United States. He doesn’t see how Mexican leadership is outsmarting President Obama and our leadership in every aspect of negotiation.
For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian and as President I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now, with our current President. No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith. They are using the Pope as a pawn and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is so rampant.

Those are not the words of a statesman. One who knows when to take the high road. Those are the words of a tetchy narcissist. One incapable of letting any impolitic remark go by unchallenged and without withering comment.

[Waiting for a ‘classy’ Trump presidency]

With each day, Trump demonstrates why he should never be entrusted with the presidency. His foul-mouthed and substance-free campaign of xenophobia, misogyny, nativism and racism makes a mockery of the political process. That he is rewarded for it in the polls says as much about the electorate as it does about him.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj