How the Pope will drive the GOP debates to the left

Pope Francis won’t be in Cleveland this week for the first presidential debate, but the most influential moral leader on the global stage has those eyeing the White House looking over their shoulders.

A pope who denounces “trickle down” economics and insists climate change is an urgent moral issue is recalibrating a values narrative in U.S. politics that in recent years has been off kilter. Less than two months before the pope visits the United States and becomes the first pontiff in history to address Congress, a “Francis factor” could prove to be one of the most intriguing storylines of the 2016 election.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is joining several other Republican presidential hopefuls in making a pilgrimage to kiss the rings of billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. The Catholic convert seems far less eager to cozy up to Pope Francis, who describes the economic status quo as an “idolatrous system” that “excludes, debases and kills.” Pro-choice Catholic Democrats have long felt heat from the church. These days it’s Republicans who are playing defense.