Donald Trump was all but endorsed by Jerry Falwell, Jr. at Liberty University yesterday. The assembled students heard their president tell stories of Trump’s good works and compare him to his late father — founder of the university and of the Moral Majority — as a noble soul wrapped in a mantle of political incorrectness.
“He speaks the truth publicly, even if it is uncomfortable for people to hear,” Falwell, Jr. said. “Yet he treats his friends, his employees, and those in need with the greatest respect, loyalty, and generosity.” But it was a different comparison that mattered.
My father was criticized in the early 1980s for supporting Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter for president because Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood actor who’d been divorced and remarried and Jimmy Carter was a Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher. Dad explained that when he went into the voting book, he wasn’t electing a Sunday school teacher, or a pastor, or even a president who shared his theological beliefs. He was electing the president of the United States. Abilities and experience required to lead a nation might not always line up with those required to lead a church or a congregation. After all, Jimmy Carter was a great Sunday school teacher, but look what happened to our nation with him in the presidency.
Like Reagan, Trump is a political outsider, famously successful, famous as a leading man on America’s screens. Just as Reagan promised morning in America, Trump promises to make America great again. Where Reagan marked the 1980 campaign with “I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!” Trump campaigns as the guy who can’t be bought. In both cases, it’s the man on the white horse.
After the disappointment of George W. Bush, evangelicals have grown used to voting for presidential candidates who are not one of them: war hero John McCain and, last time around, business mogul and Mormon Mitt Romney. But unlike them, Trump is despised by the Republican establishment.
Reagan was the last anti-establishment candidate to achieve the GOP nomination. Like his father 36 years ago, Jerry Falwell, Jr. may just have put his money on the winning horse.