CLEMSON, S.C. — John Kasich spent five full minutes praising Pope Francis Thursday when he was asked about his comments on Donald Trump.
“I love the pope,” the Ohio governor said after a town hall meeting sponsored by Clemson University’s Strom Thurmond Institute. “The pope, in terms of his overall message, has been one of love and compassion. I don’t take anything away from the pope. And frankly, in many respects, I’m not even sure I’m qualified to criticize or comment on remarks from this man. He’s been a remarkable man in bringing lots of people together in this world.”
The Republican presidential candidate is hoping to outperform expectations in Saturday’s primary here to get some momentum going into Super Tuesday and later primaries in the industrial Midwest, namely Michigan. He was introduced here by former star Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd.
Kasich stressed that he thinks the pope was not actually saying Trump is not a Christian when he said aboard his plane that “a person who thinks only about building walls … and not building bridges, is not Christian.”
“I heard the whole quote, and I don’t think that’s what he said,” Kasich told a handful of reporters. “The pope’s made a lot of controversial statements like, ‘Who am I to judge?’ I don’t know under the context of which he said it, but he’s not a guy who’s been running around wondering who is pure and who is not. So if he said that, I’m sure he would regret having said that. Because it’s not up to any of us to judge who is good or who is bad.”
Kasich, who is a member of the Anglican Church in North America, a conservative denomination that broke away from the Episcopal Church, explained how the Christian faith considers that each person is deeply flawed. The point of God sending Jesus, he said, was to absolve those who seek forgiveness of their sins.
“Even when they approached Jesus and said, ‘Good teacher,’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘No one is good,’ ” Kasich said. “No one is good!”
Pressed about how the pope’s comment jibes with his own support for a fence on the southern border, the governor said that he still wants “to control the border.”
“I don’t only believe in building a wall to make sure we can have orderly entrance to our country, but I believe in building bridges too,” he said. “I think people who build bridges to people who may not think exactly the way they do will someday be rewarded by voters.”
“We’re not getting much done in this country because we’re not thinking about bridges,” he added. “We’re thinking about too many walls.”
Kasich also praised Francis’s just-concluded trip to Mexico. “He went to some of the toughest areas, where packs of dogs roam the streets, where mothers are afraid to let their kids out … and it’s not unusual to find women in some of these villages who have been murdered,” Kasich said.
As aides tried to shoo him into the Suburban for the next event, he held off to talk more about the pope.
“I’m not the pope’s P.R. guy, but I like the pope,” Kasich said. “He should give me a little note of thanks for all the things good I’ve said about him since he’s been pope.”
“Let me say one more thing. Just one more,” he added, looking at staff. “He has practiced humility in his role as the pope. He has given people all across the globe a new look at what it means to have Christian faith. He is not a judgmental man. He’s never been that way.”
He urged reporters to read a book about the original Saint Francis of Assisi, who lived in the 13th century.
As he finally left, he was asked whether Trump can be stopped if he wins big in South Carolina on Saturday.
“It's a ‘Long Way to Tipperary,’ ” he quipped.