If evangelicals held Trump to the same standard they have applied to leaders in the past, he would hardly pass muster. Russell Moore, leader of the Southern Baptist denomination’s political arm, recently described Trump as “unrepentant serial adulterer who has abandoned two wives for other women” and who has grown rich through “an industry that preys on the poor and incentivizes immoral and often criminal behavior.”
Given that Trump diverges from Falwell and so many evangelicals on substantive policy and personal morality, it is odd to see him at Liberty. Trump likely feels pressure to make his case there. The fact that Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Ben Carson have also spoken at the evangelical college suggests that the Republican road to the White House passes through Lynchburg, Virginia. But if evangelical engagement with politics is driven by a politics and morality, Trump may be facing an impossible task.
And yet, the late televangelist and the poorly coifed billionaire are not totally distinct. Falwell Junior elaborated on the comparison to his father by saying, “[Trump] says exactly what he thinks no matter what anybody cares.” And, on this point, the likeness between the two men is difficult to deny.