Jerry Falwell Jr., the President of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, is all in for Trump. In an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, Falwell was asked whether he could still vote for Trump if the latest accusations about his behavior toward women were true. Falwell argued that he was voting for a president not a pastor. Here’s the exchange on CNN:
“If these things happened, would you still support him? Would you still vote for him?” Erin Burnett asks. “I can’t answer a hypothetical, you’re saying if…if he murdered someone would I forgive him? That’s like asking something as ridiculous as that,” Falwell replied.
Burnett replies that these accusations come from women making them under their own names and then asks again, “If what they say is true, does Jerry Falwell Jr. vote for Donald Trump?” Falwell replies, “I’m going to vote for Donald Trump because I believe he’s the best qualified to be President of the United States.” He adds, “I’m not going to say anything to besmirch the character of any of these women. It’s the heat of an election. It’s four weeks away from election day and everybody’s in a frenzy and so we have to keep that in mind.”
Falwell is certainly not the first person to claim that a politician’s sexual behavior shouldn’t determine one’s vote for president. Bill Clinton and his defenders have been arguing along the same lines for decades. What is odd about this, obviously, is that Falwell’s family was at the forefront of making the opposite case, i.e. character matters, especially in a president.
Now it appears both sides have switched places. Falwell doesn’t seem to believe the accusations are true but he’s saying that even if they are we should draw a bright line between Trump’s private behavior and his qualifications for the office of president. Meanwhile, it seems a lot of the people who were saying “everyone lies about sex” circa 1999 suddenly feel that inappropriate sexual behavior ought to be instantly disqualifying for high office.
Of course what Trump is being accused of is different from the Lewinsky scandal because that affair was clearly consensual. But that wasn’t the case with several of Bill’s other accusers including Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick. It’s also true that Bill Clinton isn’t on the ballot this year, though he could be returning to the White House as a kind of co-president. Still, it’s an interesting (unconstitutional) thought experiment to consider how Hillary’s voters would feel if Bill were on the ballot. I don’t think they’d abandon him en masse. I suspect we’d have quite a few feminists siding with Bill no matter what, not unlike what Falwell Jr. is doing now.
Not everyone on the right is comfortable with this kind of compartmentalization. As the Washington Post reports, Liberty University students are upset with Falwell’s stance on Trump:
A statement issued late Wednesday by the group Liberty United Against Trump strongly rebuked the candidate as well as the school’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., for defending Trump after he made extremely lewd comments about women in a 2005 video. The students wrote that Falwell’s support for Trump had cast a stain on the reputation of the school in Lynchburg, Va.
“We are Liberty students who are disappointed with President Falwell’s endorsement and are tired of being associated with one of the worst presidential candidates in American history,” the statement said. “Donald Trump does not represent our values and we want nothing to do with him. . . . He has made his name by maligning others and bragging about his sins. Not only is Donald Trump a bad candidate for president, he is actively promoting the very things that we as Christians ought to oppose.”
That’s the kind of public moralizing the left usually hates, especially when it’s coming from conservative evangelicals. Replace Trump’s name with Bill Clinton’s and many on the progressive left would be rolling their eyes at this. As it is, this sounds like a slightly more spiritualized version of the Clinton campaign’s message this week. Talk about strange bedfellows.