Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. heaped praise on presidential candidate Donald Trump during the GOP presidential primary candidate’s appearance on campus Monday.
“As our friendship has grown, so has my admiration for Mr. Trump,” he told the estimated 11,000 or so in attendance at the school’s student convocation.
“Whenever we were in New York we were asked to drop by and say ‘hello’ at the Trump Tower on 5th Avenue. Mr. Trump is loyal to his friends, even new friends like us.”
Falwell’s words came just two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, where evangelical voters make up a key voting group courted by Trump and other candidates.
In his address Monday, the billionaire businessman noted at one point, “We’re going to protect Christianity,” and at another, “If I’m going to be president, you’re going to see ‘Merry Christmas’ in the department store.”
In his introductory remarks before Trump’s address, Falwell noted Liberty University does not endorse or oppose candidates for office and Trump’s appearance is not an endorsement by the school. He spent about 12 more minutes talking about what he sees as Trump’s positive traits and qualifications to lead the country.
He said Trump’s generosity and outspokenness remind him of his father, Jerry Falwell Sr. He also said some people criticized his father for supporting Ronald Reagan for president over Jimmy Carter, a Baptist Sunday School teacher, but said voting for president is not the same as picking a pastor or religious leader. Carter, he said, was a good Sunday school teacher and a bad president.
“I believe the polls are indicating to us now the American electorate is finally ready to elect a candidate who is not a career politician but who has succeeded in real life,” he said in closing. “Please welcome back to Liberty, Donald Trump.”
The Republican candidate waved away Teleprompters and spoke off the cuff. He struck a cheerful tone in his speech but peppered his remarks with warnings about what he sees as troubling trends in the world.
“Other religions, frankly they are banding together, and they are using it,” he said at one point. “ … Our country has to do that around Christianity.”
Trump criticized a recent prisoner swap between Iran and the United States and said the U.S. must project strength in its dealings with other countries. He insisted once again upon the creation of a giant wall on the nation's southern border, to be paid for by Mexico.
“Some day they will name the wall Trump Wall,” he said.
He also took time out to praise Falwell Jr. and Falwell Sr., as well as Liberty University.
Overall, the crowd seemed to give Trump a warm response. Most in the audience were students who are required to attend the school’s convocation, which occurs three times per week. The capacity of the Liberty University’s Vines Center for the event was expected to be about 11,000 people, according to the university.
Unlike Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders, the most recent presidential candidates to visit Liberty University’s convocation, Trump did not take any questions from students during the event.
After the speech, many people gathered around the candidate to shake hands and get autographs.
Sandy Sturgill said she came from Concord to hear Trump speak and liked what he had to say on the topics of immigration and bringing jobs back to America.
“I think he’s got really great ideas,” she said. “Let’s hope he can follow through with them.”
Quinn Nii, who came down from Washington, D.C., said he’s heard Trump speak quite a few times. He said Trump is genuine, personable, authentic and transparent.
“I think Trump has really resonated well across the country,” he said.