Last Friday, Senator Bernie Sanders appeared on a couple of nationally-televised programs and let it be known that the Vatican had invited him to meet Pope Francis this week. This sounded like a huge deal, if true. Except that it wasn't true. At all. But luckily for Bernie, it seems as though the press for the most part either didn't notice or didn't much mind this bizarre situation. And why should they have? It's not like he's running to be the most powerful person in the world or anything.
After that train wreck, I figured his campaign would come up with a reason to cancel the trip instead of actually having their candidate jump on a plane right after Thursday's debate to spend a little time in Italy only to turn right around and come back for some last minute New York campaigning. But no, far from it.
Don't ask me to make sense of this, because I'm just as confused about it now as I was last week. And I'm not alone:
It’s just a quick jump across the Atlantic, a two-day turnaround. But Bernie Sanders' decision to leave the campaign trail late Thursday and head to a Vatican City conference later this week still has some allies scratching their heads and wondering whether it’s the best use of the underdog’s limited time.
The problem isn’t the optics of appearing at an academic-feeling event with two leftist South American presidents who’ve clashed with the United States. It’s not the potential appearance of politicizing the Vatican — an accusation he faced as soon as the trip was announced last week.
Instead, it’s the Vermont senator’s departure from New York in the final days before an election that’s pivotal to his bid for the Democratic nomination. Sanders is trailing Hillary Clinton by double digits in the polls and in need of a competitive performance in the delegate-packed state, and his decision to jet to Rome has heightened the anxiety level of supporters who don’t think he has the luxury of stepping out of the primary crucible.
...And just how brief is Bernie's speech?
Sanders’ Vatican visit is an unusual one for a candidate, even within the context of international trips taken by presidential hopefuls.
While most international trips during campaign season come after the conventions — such as open meetings and addresses in the United Kingdom or Israel, or in Barack Obama’s case, Germany in 2008 — the senator is only scheduled to deliver one brief speech and he is not slated to publicly meet with any foreign leaders, let alone the pope.
Sanders’ ten-minute speech is titled “The Urgency of a Moral Economy: Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of Centesimus Annus.” He is slated to speak on Saturday at 4 p.m. local time.
(Note: this article says it’s on Saturday, but the actual conference schedule says it's on Friday.)Delivering a ten-minute speech to an academic conference on the other side of the world is more important than getting in quite a bit of prime campaigning time on the eve of a must-win primary? That does not make sense.
Furthermore, modern presidential campaigns are already a tremendous endurance test that can be completely exhausting for anyone at any age. Throwing in a long plane ride across the Atlantic immediately after Thursday’s big debate, only to have another one right before a series of primary eve rallies, seems like an ill-advised risk of any candidate's energy and stamina. Hopefully he won't have to fly coach, at least.
And the saddest part of all? There won't even be enough time for Bernie and Jane to relax and sightsee for a few days in Rome, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Anyway, I hope Bernie gets some questions about this trip, and why he mistakenly told the American people that he was meeting with the pope, at the debate tomorrow.
Because this whole thing is just so weird. Still.