As if the Republican Party didn't have enough negative publicity-grabbing problems with a man who is not serious about wanting to be president leading an overcrowded field of people who really want to be president and a president who is doing a pretty good job of being president, now comes (well, pretty soon, anyway) the Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Servant of the Servants of God, and Holy Father.
You can call him Francis, but the GOP probably would rather he be calling long distance than embarking on a whirlwind U.S. tour that will include a September 24 address to a joint session of Congress, the first in history by a pontiff.
The visit, which is taking on the hype of a Beatles reunion tour, will be a celebratory occasion for many people, but for Republicans it will be a stark reminder that the man who is the closest thing on earth to God for America's 69 million Catholics (and presumably the 33 percent of congressfolk who are Catholic, as well) is a flaming social liberal who has forcefully staked out ideological positions diametrically opposite to that of the Republican Party at a time when its efforts to broaden its base seem, well, less than holy, which is to say somewhere between halfhearted and desultory.
While the Republicans are pushing for spending cuts that would disproportionately impact on the poor, Francis has called the excesses of capitalism the "dung of the devil." While Republicans believe that human-caused global warming is either a hoax or a liberal plot against big business, Francis has inveigled against its "devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness." While Republicans adamantly oppose the new accord with Iran on its nuclear program, Francis believes that the pact "may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world." And while most Republicans oppose immigration reform, Francis has frequently confronted the "racist and xenophobic attitudes" that often face undocumented aliens and has said immigrant children "must be welcomed and protected."
The pope's visit is especially problematic for House Speaker John Boehner, who is a poster boy for a party that self-righteously jams God (well, that white Christian god, anyway) into just about everything it says and does. And if the GOP plays its cards right, it will have engineered the latest government shutdown about the time Francis alights on Capitol Hill.
Boehner, who frequently invokes his working-class Catholic roots in Reading, Ohio, where his father was a tavern owner, has invited popes to address Congress for the last 20 years, but Francis is the first to accept.
It should be noted that Francis, while speaking out forcefully on issues Republicans pray will magically disappear for the duration of his Washington visit but will not, has made no changes in church doctrine. This includes opposition to two Democratic grails -- abortion and same-sex marriage. And perhaps not surprisingly, the pope's honeymoon with American Catholics is pretty much over. Although a little more than seven in 10 still have a favorable image of Francis, according to a new Gallup poll, that is a drop of 18 percentage points from last year. The drop is even more marked among conservative Catholics, just 45 percent of whom have a positive opinion of him.
Despite the potential for conflict, Boehner says he is just thrilled at the prospect of he and his fellow congressfolk meeting and greeting the Holy Father, as well as surely hopes that there won't be any intemperate outbursts from his flock like Joe Wilson's "You lie!" rant during President Obama's rollout of the Affordable Care Act in a speech to Congress in 2009.
"Well, listen, there's one thing we know about this pope," Boehner says. "He's not afraid to take on the status quo or not afraid to say what he really thinks. And I can tell you this: I'm not about to get myself into an argument with the pope. So I'm sure the pope will have things to say that people will find interesting, and I'm looking forward to his visit."
You don't have to be the pope to know that the Republican Party is on the wrong side of history an awful lot these days. Such is the case with a surprise issue of the 2016 presidential race -- the federal minimum wage.A FAIR SHARE FOR WORKERS
Raising the federal minimum wage from a paltry $7.25 an hour, let alone doubling it as have New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. this month for certain workers, would hurt business owners, argue Republicans. The reality is just the opposite: Putting more money in workers' pockets helps everyone, but for the GOP to acknowledge that would undermine "trickle-down" economics, that frayed conservative security blanket that the party has been sucking on for years in claiming that rewarding the rich and screwing the middle class and poor actually helps everyone.
Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton advocate raising the minimum wage; Sanders wants to double it. The Fair Shot campaign, as the effort to hike the minimum wage is often called, is bound to give Republicans fits as it spreads, and deservedly so. It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of curmudgeons.
BEWARE OF REPUBLICANS BEARING GIFTS
The U.S. isn't Greece, but there is a lesson in its ongoing financial disaster: Leading Republicans believe in the very policies that have gotten it in such trouble.
"On one side, just about everyone in the GOP demands that we reduce government spending, especially aid to lower-income families," writes economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman in the New York Times.
"On the other side, leading Republicans like Representative Paul Ryan incessantly attack the Federal Reserve for its efforts to boost the economy, delivering solemn lectures on the evils of 'debasing the dollar' when the main difference between the effects of austerity in Canada and in Greece was precisely that Canada could 'debase' its currency, while Greece couldn't. Oh, and many Republicans hanker for a return to the gold standard, which would effectively put us into a euro-like straitjacket."
Got that, kiddies? Slashing spending a la Ryan while blocking any offsetting monetary easing will bring the policies behind the Greek collapse to the U.S.
YOUR DONALD UPDATE
I would be remiss not to mention Donald Trump, as tiresome as he has become, and there are two developments related to him of note, or perhaps notoriety: Despite his slander of John McCain, he continues to lead in most national polls (which I predicted), has actually extended his lead in some polls, and is guaranteed a spot in at least the first presidential tevee debate. And he is threatening to bolt the GOP and run as a third-party candidate (which anyone with a pulse could have predicted) if the Republican Party doesn't kiss his ring.
Party bigs have pretty much resigned themselves to Trump's bomb throwing, which is drowning out the messages of the other candidates in the overcrowded field, and provoking him would clearly backfire at this stage of the game. That is why a proposal floated at a Republican Governors Association meeting to force Trump out of the forthcoming debates was DOA.
Under the proposal, the three leading candidates not named Trump -- Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio -- would refuse to participate in the debates if Trump was included because of his threat to bolt the party. The other candidates would then get on board, or so the wishful thinking went, and the television networks would be forced to show Trump the door.
I suppose there is a third development, as well: It is now widely acknowledged that Trump's ascendancy is a direct result of the toxicity of the Republican brand, an inescapable reality that I first wrote about in May:
"In the last two-plus decades as the Republican Party's drift to the right morphed into a full-blown gallop and the party's base came to be dominated by Bible thumpers and angry white men -- and frequently Bible thumping angry white men -- the GOP has won only two of six presidential elections, one because the Supreme Court gave the Constitution the finger and the other because Republicans had perfected their fear machine message and the Democratic candidate was weak. It is probable that Republicans will not halt their losing streak in 2016."
Probable is quickly morphing into likely, and that is not the fault of Trump, who is leading in many polls precisely because he is an unserious man who has no desire to become president. Put another way: Trump is a symptom of the rot in the Grand Old Party, not a cause.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968. Click here for an index of previous Politix Updates.