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Receptive Audience At Liberty University Praises Trump's Accomplishments


When he was running for president, Donald Trump got a lot of love from students at Liberty University, which is a Christian college in Lynchburg, Va. He didn't pretend to be someone steeped in Christian theology, and those students forgave him when he botched the name of 2 Corinthians from the Bible. This weekend, President Trump went back to Liberty to deliver the commencement address as president. NPR's Sarah McCammon was there.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: As he stood before a stadium full of Liberty graduates and their loved ones, Trump reminded them of their importance in helping him win the Republican nomination and then the presidency.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And I want to thank you because boy, did you come out and vote - those of you that are old enough - in other words, your parents...


TRUMP: Boy, oh, boy - you voted. You voted.

MCCAMMON: Trump was introduced by university President Jerry Falwell Jr. He offered praise for a long list of Trump's actions, like supporting Israel and nominating Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.


JERRY FALWELL JR: He appointed more men and women of faith to his Cabinet than any president in recent memory. He bombed those in the Middle East who were persecuting and killing Christians.

MCCAMMON: Speaking with NPR after the commencement, Falwell discussed why conservative Christians voted for Trump in larger numbers than they had for Republicans like Mitt Romney and John McCain.

FALWELL JR: They said all the right things, but they never followed through. And I think evangelicals were tired of being burned. And they - instead of voting for another professional politician, they wanted somebody who was more authentic.

MCCAMMON: Falwell endorsed Trump early, back in January 2016, when many other evangelicals were still expressing concern about Trump's history of multiple marriages, past support for abortion rights and famously sharp tongue. Falwell says the focus should be on the issues not a particular politician's character.

FALWELL JR: Because (laughter) the ones that you think are so perfect and sinless, it's just you don't know about it. They're all just as bad. We all are, and that's the bottom line (laughter).

MCCAMMON: So far, he says Trump is following through on his promises to conservative voters as much as it's within his power to do so. Falwell expresses frustration with moderate Republicans, who he blames for standing in the way of repealing the Affordable Care Act.

FALWELL JR: I think he's going to keep pushing until he - you know, keep every single promise unless he's just completely prevented from doing so by his own party.

MCCAMMON: Falwell wields influence over a considerable number of evangelical students and their families. More than 18,000 people received degrees from Liberty this weekend alone. Among the crowd was John Johnson (ph), a software developer from Florida, who came to watch his daughter graduate. He says he hopes Trump can deliver on promises to cut health care costs, though he's not sure about some of the current proposals working their way through Congress.

JOHN JOHNSON: It's hard to really say. I think it's a little early. I've heard some things that I don't like. In fact, I've probably heard more that I don't like than I do. But I recognize it's early, and I hope they get it together.

MCCAMMON: Johnson voted for Trump and says, overall, he's pleased with his performance so far, though he has a few concerns about the abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey last week.

JOHNSON: That's not ideal, but, hey, I'm not going to sweat the details. I'm looking at the big picture. So I'm willing to take a little bit of, you know, less than ideal as long as we get the big picture.

MCCAMMON: Regardless of a big controversy in Washington, Johnson and other Trump supporters here say they're feeling optimistic that the big picture will eventually come into focus.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Lynchburg, Va.


Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.