Donald Trump builds bridges with Pope after walls criticism

Donald Trump has played down dispute that could sway voters. Picture: AP
Donald Trump has played down dispute that could sway voters. Picture: AP
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has heaped praise on Pope Francis, hours after the pontiff questioned his Christian faith.

The Pope had said Mr Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the US border with Mexico was not Christian, provoking a strong response from the businessman.

But hours later, at a town hall event in South Carolina, the billionaire hotel developer was more conciliatory.

Republican voters in the US state will make their ­presidential choice in days.

Mr Trump leads the South Carolina polls and he took to a stage in Columbia on Thursday evening to answer questions on national television.

When asked about his row with the Pope, he said he wouldn’t describe it as a fight, although he later said he didn’t like fighting with him.

He said the pontiff was misinformed when he criticised the proposed wall, because he was not aware of the drugs coming in and the other security problems that made a strong border a necessity.

Earlier in the day, Pope Francis said “a person who thinks only about building walls… and not of building bridges, is not Christian”. That was roundly condemned by Mr Trump, who issued a statement in which he called the comments “disgraceful”.

His anti-immigration stance is a central plank in his campaign – he wants to deport 11 million undocumented migrants and said Muslims should be temporarily barred from coming to the US.

While Mr Trump’s words have been among the most inflammatory, some of his rivals have staked out similar enforcement positions. Texas ­senator Ted Cruz and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson are among those who have ­explicitly called for construction of a wall.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, one of the few Republican candidates proposing a path to legal status for people already in the US illegally, said he supports “walls and fencing where it’s appropriate.”

Mr Bush said that while he gets his guidance “as a ­Catholic” from the Pope, he doesn’t take his cues from the Vatican on “economic or environmental policy”.

The row with the Pope comes just before Republicans in South Carolina and Democratic voters in Nevada choose their presidential ­candidates.

Mr Trump, who has no political experience but won in New Hampshire, is the clear frontrunner in today’s ­Republican vote.

The Democratic race in Nevada has Hillary Clinton and veteran left-winger Bernie Sanders neck-and-neck.

Mrs Clinton condemned Mr Trump for his “prejudice and paranoia”.