Here's Why Bernie Sanders Is Making The Wrong Gamble On The Vatican

On April 19, the New York primary offers Bernie Sanders potentially huge gains. The Empire State allocates 291 delegates of the 2,383 a Democratic candidate needs to secure a place on the ticket for the general election. Hillary Clinton, a former New York senator, is widely expected to win, despite Sanders’ Brooklyn roots. At the moment, she still has a double-digit polling lead on Sanders.

If New York's primary was winner-take-all, then the Vermont senator’s departure to the Vatican on Thursday night would make a lot more sense. But New York awards delegates proportionally, meaning Sanders could make inroads in the count. This upcoming primary is definitely crucial, and instead of staying to campaign in the state where he was born, Sanders has decided to leave. That's right: Sanders will leave for the Vatican as soon as Thursday’s debate against Democratic rival Clinton is over. There, he’ll deliver a 15-minute speech to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. He’ll return to New York within two days, but it remains to be seen just what damage those two days will be able to do.

Sanders hasn't even been guaranteed an audience with Pope Francis on this trip — nothing’s been scheduled. Of meeting with the Pope, Sanders told The Washington Post that he would be "kicking himself" if he didn’t try to capitalize on the speaking opportunity. You can sort of see where his logic is coming from — in addition to sitting down (maybe) with a man he admires, he could be getting photo ops and tacit Vatican endorsement (and maybe even some explicit endorsement). And what better advocate for someone running a morality-based campaign than the Pope? That seems to be Sanders’ gamble.

GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

But it seems more likely to many, including me, that Sanders’ decision will come off more in the vein of jet-setting off to Rome to gush over an idol, and I think it will communicate a lack of seriousness about his New York campaign. Sanders needs New York — really needs it — and he’s choosing to leave. What’s more, he’s choosing to leave to give a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it speech with no concrete plans to actually meet with the Pope, and to top it all off, there’s been a lot of confusion about Sanders implying the Pope himself invited him to meet, when really, Sanders was simply invited to speak at the conference. Bloomberg reported that a Vatican official called out Sanders’ “discourtesy.” The official, Margaret Archer (also president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences), said that Sanders had overstepped.

This could end happily for the senator, with a coveted endorsement of sorts from the Pope. But to me, Sanders doesn’t seem to be laying the groundwork for that to happen. In the meantime, New York Democrats may simply wonder why their primary didn’t matter enough for him to stay.