Trump Touches Bases at Falwell's University
Trump was fresh off last week's tiff in which fellow presidential hopeful Ted Cruz caused a firestorm by denigrating what Cruz described as Trump's socially liberal values common to Trump's Empire State background.
The packed house of college students gave Trump an attentive hearing interspersed with a few instances of enthusiastic applause - but perhaps more interesting was the warmth of Trump's introduction from University president Jerry Falwell, Jr., son of the famous founder of the political force known as the Moral Majority.
Falwell pointed out that his father, Jerry Falwell, Sr., was criticized in the 1980s for supporting Ronald Reagan's presidential bid. Reagan was "a Hollywood actor, who had been divorced, and remarried, and Jimmy Carter was a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher," Falwell said. "Jimmy Carter was a great Sunday school teacher, but look what happened to our nation with him in the presidency."
Falwell went further, saying, to the crowd's approval that "Trump cannot be bought. He's not a puppet on a string like many other candidates ... who have wealthy donors as their puppet masters."
He also praised Trump for being politically incorrect, comparing the real estate mogul to his father, who, Falwell pointed out, had erected a billboard near Liberty University that said "Politically Incorrect since 1971."
In response, Trump said: "I have to tell you ... to be compared to [Jerry Falwell, Sr.] just a little bit, to be compared to his father is really an honor for me."
In a bow to the evangelical Christian bent of his audience, Trump promised "we are going to protect Christianity. I can say that. We don't have to be politically correct."
He expanded on the topic, citing scripture to an audience that reacted uneasily to the effort. "I asked Jerry and I asked some of the folks, because I hear this is a major theme right here," Trump said, "but 2 Corinthians 3:17, that's the whole ballgame.
"Is that the one you like, because I think that's the one you like."
Trump's faith has been an issue on the campaign trail, especially so in Iowa, where a 2012 CNN exit poll of Republican caucus-goers found 56 percent calling themselves born-again or evangelical Christians.
At the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa last summer, moderated by pollster Frank Luntz, Trump said he wasn't sure whether he had ever asked God for forgiveness. A CNN report quoted Trump saying: "I think if I do something wrong, I think I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture."
Trump moved on from faith and scripture to his standard stump speech, highlighting the need for increased national security, his tough stance on illegal immigration and his loathing of the "incompetents" he sees in Washington, D.C.
In a reference back to Jerry Falwell, Sr.'s remarks in 1980 that "God is calling millions of Americans in the so-often silent majority to join in the moral-majority crusade to turn America around,” Trump said the people backing his campaign were the same kind of people Falwell spurred to political action.
The difference this time, he said, is these people aren't silent, but are increasingly becoming a "noisy majority."
Trump's biggest applause lines came when he attacked Common Core, the national education standards backed by many businesses and government officials, and when he promised to be a stalwart defender of the Second Amendment.
Trump circled back to security, saying the nation needs to "fix the military, take care of our vets," some of whom Trump described as being "treated worse than illegal immigrants."
He concluded by saying he's thinking of changing his campaign's famous "Make America Great Again" tag line. In the past two weeks, he's been thinking, "and I mean it 100 percent," he said, that the new slogan will be "we're going to make America greater than ever before."