Former Gov. Jeb Bush will pay a visit to the heart of the conservative movement next month when the likely presidential candidate gives a commencement address at Liberty University. [...] University officials said on Wednesday that Mr. Bush would speak at Liberty's 42nd commencement on May 9.
As a moderate presidential candidate in 2000, Republican Sen. John McCain still thought it was possible to win his party's presidential nomination by aiming at the center. In February 2000, he traveled to Virginia to dismiss radical TV preachers Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as "agents of intolerance."
The gambit failed miserably -- the religious right rallied behind George W. Bush and McCain lost any chance he had of prevailing. Eight years later, the Arizona senator ran again, and this time, McCain cozied up to Falwell, speaking at the televangelist's Liberty University.
In 2012, it was Mitt Romney who was eager to speak to Liberty students. In 2013, Rand Paul spoke at Liberty, presenting others' words as his own.
Last month, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) kicked off his presidential campaign at the evangelical school, and next month, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) will make a visit of his own.
As remarkable as this may seem, Republican politics has reached the point at which Jerry Falwell's college has become an important GOP destination.
This is no small development. As we discussed in February, Liberty University is burdened with an ironic name. The restrictions placed on Liberty’s students are the stuff of legend – its code of conduct dictates that students are prohibited from seeing R-rated movies, listening to music that is not “in harmony with God’s word,” drinking alcohol, dancing, or kissing. Women on campus are prohibited from wearing dresses or skirts “shorter than the top of the knee.”
At one point, Liberty even banned students who wanted to form an on-campus Democratic Party group.
A couple of years ago, however, Liberty announced that students would be allowed to carry loaded firearms on campus.
On top of this, there are also the jaw-dropping comments Falwell, Liberty’s late founder, made during his notorious career. The list includes Falwell blaming the 9/11 attacks on Americans.
For Falwell's school to be embraced so completely by the Republican mainstream says quite a bit about what's become of GOP politics in the 21st century,