Does the Liberty University Wing of the GOP Appeal to the Masses?

While asking a political question, Jonathan Merritt’s latest column in The Week provides insight into how group leaders keep in-group members in line. Merritt was slated to speak at a Liberty University function (his alma mater), but was disinvited by the president of the school, Jerry Falwell, Jr. because “We’re just uncomfortable with some of the things you’ve been writing.”

Using the stick is a part of the tactics, promising a return to good graces if one comes around is the carrot. According to Merritt, Falwell, Jr. then said:

“You don’t seem to remember who your friends are,” Falwell lamented. “So we’ll continue to keep an eye on you and if things change on your end, we’ll reevaluate.”

I have had several of those kind of conversations over the years. The power players have been both liberals and conservatives. Group dynamics don’t seem to know party loyalties.

In this case, Merritt uses this story to pursue what promises to be a significant story line of the 2016 election. Can the cluster of religious right positions held by Ted Cruz and featured by Liberty University earlier this week appeal to the rest of the country?

Merritt seems skeptical and I agree with him.

Merritt frames the matter this way:

The question that is yet to be answered is whether their kind of conservatism — the Liberty University kind — is too rigid, radical, and Tea Party-friendly for most Americans, including moderate conservatives and centrists like me.

I am aware that not all people who teach at Liberty University are as far right as the administration appears to be. Liberty is often known for the work of the Liberty Counsel and the law school once headed by Mat Staver. As I just pointed out, Liberty law school associate dean Matt Barber wants the Christian right candidates to cut a back room deal to choose the Christian candidate for president.

In any case, I am not excited about a theocrat as a representative of the GOP, and I suspect most of the electorate won’t buy it either.

Correction: The original post identified Mat Staver as current head of the Liberty University School of Law and implied that Matt Barber was with the Liberty Counsel. Staver completed his tenure as Dean of the law school in 2014 and Barber is not with Liberty Counsel. I regret the errors and thank Mat Staver for pointing them out.

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