Bernie Sanders had a fantasy weekend fit for any socialist Presidential candidate—a visit to the Vatican, a meeting with the Pope and a gourmet meal on a private plane—but it’s unlikely to help him cement the Democratic nomination.
Jetting off Friday right after the Democratic debate and flying all night to Rome, Bernie Sanders was eager to boost his foreign policy street cred by addressing a Vatican meeting on the economy. But from the beginning, the Vatican was unclear on what, exactly, Bernie Sanders was doing at the 25th Anniversary celebration of St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on the “moral economy,” Centesimus Annus.
Vatican insiders claimed that Bernie Sanders, not the Vatican, had actually initiated the exchange, and that Bernie was using the conference to inject himself into an international dialogue on the economy. Monsignor Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, disagreed and claimed he was the one who invited Sanders. And then Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University professor who organized the event, claimed that he invited Bernie Sanders.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Sachs is Bernie’s foreign policy adviser. And he’s been an unofficial surrogate for the Sanders campaign since last year. Sachs and Sorondo are Vatican besties: The two have been working together since last year to make an impact on American elections and Vatican policy. Sachs, for example, was hopeful that the Pope would “confront” the horrors within America’s founding documents during his visit to the US last year, and speak on the evils of capitalism. When asked why Sorondo would regularly invite Sachs, who is a proponent of abortion, to speak at the Vatican, which outlaws it, Sorondo launched into a protracted criticism of the Tea Party and greedy oil industry executives.
For Bernie Sanders, the weekend fantasy didn’t end with him delivering a stump speech to a room full of economic radicals. He actually did get to meet the Pope, though the two remember the encounter quite differently. Sanders was told that he could catch a glimpse of the Pope leaving the Papal residence as the Pope departed for his Saturday trip to Greece. Papal groupie Sanders was there at the appointed time, 6 a.m., as if waiting at the stage door to snag a rocker’s autograph.
Following the encounter, Sanders gushed about Pope Francis—”he’s a beautiful man“—but the Pope seemed confused as to what meeting Bernie Sanders had actually attended. Asked about it on his plane, Pope Francis told journalists that shaking Bernie’s hand was just “good manners.”
Besides the fringe benefit of meeting the Pope, Bernie Sanders and his team likely wanted to use the Vatican visit to establish that Sanders could compete with Hillary Clinton on the world stage, though they claimed the visit was not political. But Sanders is coming from a significant deficit of foreign policy experience: His speech to the Vatican was a carbon copy of his economic stump speech, he only rolled out his advisory board in March of this year, and even Sunday morning Sanders was stammering on incoherent answers to important questions.
On the economic front, where Sanders is forceful, the Vatican trip can only hurt him. While the rest of the world may now consider him a definitive voice on the “moral economy,” Sanders spent his trip back living like a 1%-er.
On Bernie Sanders’s private (carbon-spewing) plane home, the “man of the people” was served an eight-course dinner, with his team noshing on lobster sliders, herb-crusted lamb loin, and “warm cookie service” during their trans-Atlantic flight.
Sanders probably did more to bolster his appeal with his target voting bloc with a video message introducing Run the Jewels—headlined by Sanders surrogate Mike the Killer—than he did during his entire Pope-stalking operation. But for Bernie, at least, it was fun while it lasted.