Never overplay your hand.
Such was the case this week as it was announced that presidential candidate Bernie Sanders had been invited by the Pope to give a speech at an academic conference at the Vatican, a mere four days ahead of the New York state democratic primary on April 19th. Sanders jumped at the opportunity, essentially conceding the final days on the campaign trail to Hillary Clinton as he joined his extended family, the press, and Secret Service for a whirlwind twenty-four hour transatlantic adventure.
First things first. On April 8th, it was announced that Sanders had accepted an invitation to attend a conference held by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, one of twenty colleges associated with the Vatican. How he got invited remains in dispute.
Initially, Margaret Archer, the president of the academy, stated that Sanders invited himself “for obvious reasons,” a reference to Sanders using the opportunity to make a play for the Catholic vote ahead of the New York primary. However, within hours Archer was contradicted by Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, who is the chancellor of the academy. Sorondo said that he invited Sanders with Archer’s consensus and that what Archer said was “not true.”
Despite this little snafu amongst friends, Sanders jumped at the opportunity to attend as he has consistently stated his admiration for Pope Francis and holds him in the highest regard.
Regardless of how he got invited, it appeared that Sanders would be in attendance at the two-day conference, but he was initially not scheduled to speak.
However, that suddenly changed when it was revealed that Sanders would, in fact, be giving a ten-minute speech at the conference on April 15th about the need for a moral economy. Sanders was also hoping to have an opportunity to meet with Pope Francis, but unfortunately he would not even be attending the two-day event as he was scheduled to be leaving early on April 16th to aid refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos. It appeared that a meeting would be unlikely and that Sanders was not expected to meet with the Pope.
In addition to the scheduling issue, Pope Francis wanted to avoid inserting himself into American politics as meeting with one presidential candidate could be seen as a show of favoritism. A handwritten note was shared on his behalf at the start of the conference where he thanked all of the conference’s attendees and apologized for being unable to attend himself due to travel preparations.
But Bernie Sanders didn’t travel over the Atlantic in a private jet for a twenty-four hour conference not to see the Pope.
So, early on the morning of the 16th, Sanders awoke at the crack of dawn at the Pope’s guest house where conference attendees were staying in the same building as the Pope Francis and ended up briefly interacting with him on his way out of breakfast. Now, here’s where things get interesting.
Initially, the website Politico reported that Sanders and Pope Francis met for five minutes for a “private sit down” with no cameras present. This story was based off of information provided by the Sanders campaign and seemed all well and good. However, this interpretation of events was almost immediately discredited by none other than Pope Francis himself who felt compelled to explain what actually transpired.
Pope Francis said:
“This morning as I was leaving, Senator Sanders was there. He knew I was coming out at that time, and he had the kindness to greet me. When I came down, he introduced himself, I greeted him with a handshake, and nothing more. It’s common courtesy, this is called common courtesy. If someone thinks that greeting someone is getting involved in politics, I recommend that they find a psychiatrist.”
Looks like Bernie Sanders just got berned by the Pope of all people.
Those who play with matches tend to eventually burn themselves.
Bernie Sanders has been fortunate that his campaign has received little to no scrutiny from the mainstream press during this election season, but this little incident was poorly timed. Sanders clearly felt that he could finagle himself a nice little invite to the Vatican, give a brief speech, and then pull aside the Pope for a quick photo op before heading back to campaign in New York. But Pope Francis simply refused to get political, and that may have burned the Sanders campaign just a wee bit.
Now, not only does Sanders have to justify the expense of the trip to his supporters but he also has to explain why his campaign attempted to lie about his meeting with the spiritual head of the Catholic Church. All this before the eight most important days of the campaign season to date.
Maybe Bernie Sanders shouldn’t have levied for that speaking invitation after all.