From Gaffney, South Carolina –
In one more unusual twist to the 2016 Republican race for President, Donald Trump on Thursday found himself sparring not just with his Republican primary opponents, but with Pope Frances, all over Trump’s plans to build a wall along the border with Mexico to slow in the influx of immigrants.
“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” Trump told reporters.
The long distance verbal dustup occurred after a papal visit to Mexico, as the Pope suggested to reporters aboard his plane that Trump’s proposal to slow illegal immigration into the U.S. was “not Christian.”
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” the Pope said.
Trump responded swiftly.
“The Pope is being told that Donald Trump is not a nice person,” Trump said, charging the Pope was being used as a “pawn” by the Mexican government on immigration differences with the GOP front runner.
Trump did not mention the Pope at his rally here in the Upstate region of South Carolina, though he made clear what he wanted to do to stem the tide of immigration over the southern border.
“We’re going to stop it,” Trump said to cheers.
“We’re building the wall!” Trump said to more applause. “We’re building the wall!”
While Trump didn’t talk about the Pope in his Gaffney event, he did run down his usual litany of jabs at Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush.
“You know, he holds up his Bible and then he lies,” Trump said of Cruz, in yet another verbal barrage against his nearest challenger.
“Let me tell you, that guys lies – he is a liar,” Trump added to applause.
“I see this guy, Jeb Bush, he’s got zero chance, zero chance,” Trump said.
Those ready to vote for Trump were very pleased with what they had seen.
“I think he’s straight up,” said Joe Sparks of Gaffney. “I think he’s going to do the things he says he will.”
“He has no reason to do this except to help the people,” Sparks told me. “He don’t need the money, he’ll do what he says.”
“I think he is the only person who has the backbone to do what needs to be done,” said Gretchen Holden of Pickens.
“At first I thought of backing Jeb Bush, because I voted for his brother,” Holden told me after Trump’s speech. “But I don’t think he has what it’s going to take.”
Trump tried to make sure that Sparks, Holden and many others follow through and get to the polls, as he urged those at the rally to imagine that the race is close.
“You know, the more we win by, the better it all is,” Trump said.