- The Washington Times - Monday, January 18, 2016

Making the case that he is the GOP establishment’s worst nightmare, Republican presidential contender Donald Trump looked to assure the religious right in an address at Liberty University Monday that he would defend their religious liberty and shake up the status quo in Washington.

Mr. Trump did not mention hot-button social issues that have been traditional litmus tests for many Christian voters. Instead, he promised to “protect Christianity,” described the the Bible as the best book ever written and said he is different than the rest of the GOP presidential field because he is not beholden to the deep-pocketed donors that fund his rivals’ campaigns.

“I am not being funded by these guys from Wall Street,” Mr. Trump said. “It is true. I am self-financing my own campaign. I am not taking funds. Is that nice?”

Mr. Trump said he has rattled the GOP establishment.

“I changed sides,” Mr. Trump said. “I was total establishment. Now I am like the worst thing that ever happened to the establishment because I understand the game.”

Founded by the late Jerry Falwell, Liberty University bills itself as the largest Christian university in the world, making it a major venue for presidential candidates to reach out to Christian voters.

In 2012, nearly 60 percent of Iowa caucus goers identified as Born-again or evangelical Christian voters and 65 percent of voters in South Carolina’s first-in-the-south primary.

Mr. Trump is running neck-and-neck with Sen. Ted Cruz in Iowa, where the nomination contests kick off Feb. 1.

Mr. Cruz, an evangelical Christian, has had success consolidating support among the religious leaders, fueling questions about whether Mr. Trump can keep pace with the Texas Republican, especially since he once was pro-choice and has been married three times.

Mr. Trump, though, was showered with praise by Jerry Falwell Jr., president of the university, who introduced the New York billionaire to the audience.

“In my opinion Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment,” Mr. Falwell said.

Mr. Falwell also suggested that the audience should give Mr. Trump a good look by sharing the story of how his father was criticized for backing Ronald Reagan, a divorced Hollywood actor, over Jimmy Carter, a southern Baptist Sunday school teacher, in the 1980 presidential election.

“Dad explain that when you walked into the voting booth he wasn’t electing a Sunday school teacher, or pastor, or even a president who shared his theological beliefs,” Mr. Falwell said. “He was electing a president of the United States, and the talents, abilities and experience required to lead an nation might not always line up with those needed to run a church or lead a congregation.

“After all, Jimmy Carter was a great Sunday school teacher, but look what happened to our nation with him in the presidency,” Mr. Falwell said.

Mr. Falwell said that, like his father, Mr. Trump speaks his mind and pushes back against political establishment from both parties that have broken promises time and time again.

“He cannot be bought,” Mr. Falwell said. “He is not a puppet on a string like many other candidates who have wealthy donors as their puppet masters and that is a key reason that so many new voters are attracted to him.”

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