Mitt’s going to Liberty University

Is delivering the commencement address at the school Jerry Falwell created a smart way to win over swing voters?

Topics: War Room,

The timing of the news that Mitt Romney will deliver the commencement address at Liberty University next month seems a bit funny, as in: Wouldn’t it have made more sense to do this last year?

In the spring of 2011, after all, Romney was just embarking on his second bid for the GOP nomination, and the skepticism he’d be facing from Christian conservatives was obvious. His moderate past was haunting him anew, thanks to the right’s retroactive decision to equate the sort of individual mandate that Romney had enacted in Massachusetts with tyranny and socialism. And there was still the question of just how much of a turn-off to evangelical Republicans Romney’s Mormonism would be. So it would have been logical for Romney to pay a visit back then to Liberty, the Jerry Falwell-created school that bills itself as the largest evangelical Christian college on the planet.

But now things are a little different. Romney is the presumptive Republican nominee, one who has a pretty serious image problem with the general election audience. His imperative is to appeal to the middle of the electorate, voters who are frustrated with President Obama but apprehensive about empowering the Tea Party-era Republican Party – and who have historically been uneasy with the mixing of religion and hard-right politics that Liberty represents.

You Might Also Like

That Romney is making a high-profile speech at Liberty anyway suggests two possibilities. The most likely is that he’s still nervous about his standing with his party’s base. A new poll this week found that about half of all Republican evangelicals say they have reservations about Romney, even though – for now, at least – they say they will support him over Barack Obama in the fall. The Liberty speech could just reflect what figures to be an ongoing problem for Romney, trying to balance the need to reach out to the middle with fears of turning off the GOP base.

Romney isn’t the first Republican to face a dilemma like this. When he was president, George H.W. Bush delivered Liberty’s 1990 commencement speech. It was his way of paying back Falwell for the support he’d given Bush in the 1988 GOP primaries, when Bush had been struggling to overcome evangelical skepticism (and an opponent named Pat Roberston). But while Bush felt compelled to speak at Liberty, the White House tried to downplay the significance of the visit, scheduling a second commencement address for Bush on the same day (at the University of South Carolina). And Bush’s speech to graduates shied away from culture war themes and was focused on upheaval in Eastern Europe. It will be interesting to see whether Romney plays his speech the same way, or if he decides that he also needs to include some red meat.

It’s also possible, of course, that Liberty is losing a bit of its stigma. The school remains a bastion of Christian conservatism, but Falwell has been dead for six years now. The school’s name may not be quite the lightning rod it once was, so Romney may not face much blowback for paying a visit.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>