Liberty University, Where Ted Cruz Will Announce His Presidential Candidacy, Is A Very Strategic Choice
Everyone was abuzz Sunday in anticipation of Sen. Ted Cruz announcing his run for the Republican presidential nomination. It's notable — he's the first to do so, as the rest of the possible candidates are still in exploratory phases, something Cruz seems to have bypassed quickly. Or maybe he was just waiting for the right moment. He's speaking at a convocation ceremony at Liberty University on Monday, and while that seems innocuous enough, it seems like there's a much grander strategic plan underfoot. Why Cruz is announcing his candidacy at Liberty University gives a little insight into the type of campaign he's looking to run.
Liberty University is a private Christian college with 13,000 residential students and the slogan "Training Champions for Christ." Founded in 1971 by the pastor and televangelist Rev. Jerry Falwell, the university bills itself not only as the largest private nonprofit university in the nation, but also the largest Christian university in the world, likely because they report more than 95,000 students attend the college online. The religious-minded students are given an education centered around Jesus Christ and required to follow a Christian lifestyle, as stipulated in the on-campus living guide.
But there's much more to Liberty University than being a Christian college rooted in tradition, and it's a likely reason why Cruz has chosen it as the location for his announcement. The Huffington Post said Liberty University is the type of college that's focused on "training future political operatives and placing them in positions of power." It also appeals to a certain constituency, whose support Cruz is likely hoping to attain.
As Vox details, Cruz's choice of Liberty University underlines his plan to vie for the votes of social conservatives and Tea Party members. Cruz is largely seen as fairly radical (if his statements on climate change are any indication), and if he wants to have any chance at the Republican nomination, he's going to have to rely on the Tea Party. That side of the GOP has previously backed Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee when the candidates were left without other support within their party. It shows Cruz knows what he's doing, and he knows exactly the game he needs to play. At such a staunchly Christian college, he'll appeal directly to the social conservatives.
Several politicians have shown alliance with Liberty University in the past and used the location for political speeches in the past, putting Cruz with the likes of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. In May 2012, Romney delivered the commencement address in what The Washington Post described as his "most spiritual speech of his presidential campaign." Gingrich, who boasts having designed a curriculum for an American Exceptionalism course, has cited the university as having:
...depth of commitment to America, to the fact that we are endowed by our Creator, and the desire to give young people an opportunity to encounter the core values and the religious beliefs which are at the very heart of the American experience.
The Washington Post writes that by choosing Liberty University as his announcement location, Cruz is sending a "clear signal" about his candidacy and political position. Not only will he appeal to the Christian right, but he'll also try to pick up the votes of young conservatives. An anonymous Cruz aide told the Post that the location was chosen because:
Liberty enforces a strong message that taking a stand for what is right speaks volumes about character.
But as young Republicans continue to become a little more socially moderate, we'll see whether that strong message of what Liberty University stands for helps or hurts Cruz in the long run.
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