It was one of Donald Trump’s first powerful endorsements: Jerry Falwell Jr., who testified for many evangelical Christians that despite leading a life of excess, the thrice-married, trash-talking mogul was indeed a God-fearing president-in-waiting.
But Falwell’s plunge into presidential politics did not sit so well with intimates of his late father, Jerry Falwell Sr., nor with some at Liberty University, the Christian college in Virginia founded by the elder Falwell and now led by his son.
Mark DeMoss, who for many years served as chief of staff to Falwell Sr. and considered the televangelist a second father, said in an interview that it was a mistake for Falwell Jr. to endorse Trump. He said the Republican front-runner’s insult-laden campaign has been a flagrant rejection of the values Falwell Sr. espoused and Liberty promotes on its campus.
“Donald Trump is the only candidate who has dealt almost exclusively in the politics of personal insult,” DeMoss said. “The bullying tactics of personal insult have no defense — and certainly not for anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ. That’s what’s disturbing to so many people. It’s not Christ-like behavior that Liberty has spent 40 years promoting with its students.”
DeMoss, a public affairs executive with deep ties throughout the national evangelical community, sits on the board of Liberty University and chairs its executive committee. He said he has discussed his views about Trump personally with Falwell Jr. — “This appears to be something we’re just going to disagree on,” DeMoss said — but otherwise has kept his opinions private.
On Monday, however, with Trump poised for sweeping Super Tuesday victories, including in Virginia and in DeMoss’s home state of Georgia, DeMoss decided to break his silence in an interview with The Washington Post.
“I’ve been concerned for Liberty University for a couple of months now, and I’ve held my tongue,” DeMoss said. “I think a lot of what we’ve seen from Donald Trump will prove to be difficult to explain by evangelicals who have backed him. Watching last weekend’s escapades about the KKK, I don’t see how an evangelical backer can feel good about that.”
DeMoss was referring to Trump’s refusal in a Sunday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper to disavow the endorsement of his candidacy by David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Though Trump did denounce Duke at a news conference two days earlier.
Liberty officials have stressed that Falwell Jr. endorsed Trump personally and not on behalf of the university.
Falwell Jr. told The Post in an interview Tuesday afternoon that he found DeMoss’s objections “puzzling” and “was disappointed” in him. He said that his backing of Trump was never intended to influence Liberty’s students or faculty.
“Any time you support a candidate, and you’re an official at a university, you just have to accept the fact that a large percentage of the community is not going to agree with you,” Falwell Jr. said. “I think our community is mature enough that they understand that all the administrators and faculty have their own personal political views.”
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SOURCE: The Washington Post