On Saturday morning, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will address Liberty University as he attempts to appeal to evangelical voters ahead of his likely presidential campaign.
Bush has a lot of work to do to gain the support of the evangelical voters who will be assembled at the Christian school founded by the controversial late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. Bush’s more moderate stances and limited efforts to woo the Christian right appear to have turned off voters in more conservative wings of the party; in Iowa’s conservative caucuses where evangelicals play a big role, for example, he’s polling poorly. And despite saying he wouldn’t pander to the base to win the primary, Bush will have to put in some time.
Bush’s address to Liberty comes on the heels of Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential announcement at the school; he’ll also be the second Bush to give the commencement address there; his father, former President George H.W. Bush addressed graduates in 1990.
His Saturday commencement speech will focus on faith, aides told reporters on Friday.
“No place where the message reaches, no heart that it touches, is ever the same again. And across our own civilization, what a radically different story history would tell without it. Consider a whole alternative universe of power without restraint, conflict without reconciliation, oppression without deliverance, corruption without reformation, tragedy without renewal, achievement without grace, and it’s all just a glimpse of human experience without the Christian influence,” Bush will say, according to a selection of his remarks released in advance to the media.
And while Bush has struggled with his party’s most conservative wings, he has the kind of family values that have the potential to impress. During his time as governor in Florida, Bush was a fierce champion of life. He famously intervened to have a feeding tube reinserted into a brain-dead woman after courts agreed with her husband that she should be allowed to die and fought for abortion bans.
He’s also a strong advocate of education reform and the Common Core, something the university’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., touched on in a press releasing announcing the speaker. “Throughout his years of public service, Gov. Bush has been a champion for excellence in education and so many other issues of vital importance to our university community,” he said.