During a live interview on CNN, a prominent Evangelical leader dismissed sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump before even looking into them as he doubled down in his support for the Republican nominee. Jerry Falwell Jr. – president of Liberty University, the largest Christian college in the world – defended Trump on CNN talk show ‘Erin Burnett OutFront’ on October 12.
Despite claiming he did not want to “besmirch the character of any of these women” and confessing that he didn’t actually “know anything” about the allegations, Falwell said he believed “the absolute denial of the allegations” by Trump. He said he still planned to vote for Trump because he was a “changed man” who had “taken all the right positions on all the issues” and was the “best qualified to be the president of the United States.”
“We’re not electing a pastor, we’re electing a president,” Falwell said at the end of the interview. “Our country is going to suffer if we get sidetracked on these rabbit trails about is this person a good, is that person a good person. It’s not about that. It’s about what are their positions on the issues.”
Falwell apparently trusted Trump so fully, that he later willingly admitted to dismissing the allegations against Trump without bothering to look into them: “I haven’t even seen the allegations, but I have seen the denial.”
During the appearance, host Erin Burnett pressed Falwell multiple times about whether he would still vote for Trump, even if recent allegations against him proved to be true.
Falwell defended Trump against the recent sexual assault allegations by characterizing them as politically motivated attacks against the candidate. Falwell said “everybody’s in a frenzy” in the “heat of an election.” He added that The New York Times, which released two accounts from women who said they were sexually harassed by Trump, was “very anti-Trump” in its reporting.
Burnett brought up an unidentified friend whom she said Trump kissed against her wishes. Falwell reacted by dismissing the allegations, calling Trump a “changed man,” and attacking Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton instead.
Confronting Falwell’s claim that Trump was a “changed man,” Burnett played several recent quotes by Trump demeaning women. Falwell’s response reeked of moral relativism.
“He has his own style,” Falwell said. “He has his own way of saying things, and he’s a New York businessman. He grew up in a different culture than I did. What sounds raunchy to me might not sound raunchy to him. But the point is I think he is a changed man.”
He later admitted that Trump “has his flaws like all of us,” before slipping again into moral relativism. Falwell argued that “all of us are sinners, every single one of us, and it’s hard for me to say my sin is any better than Donald Trump’s sin or anybody else’s sin.” He said the Bible demonstrated that “we all need forgiveness.”
After Burnett finished with her questions, Falwell launched into making a tenuous analogy, apparently comparing Donald Trump to John F. Kennedy and conflating Hillary Clinton with former President Bill Clinton:
I don’t know who was the worse womanizer. I don’t know who has slept with more women, John F. Kennedy or Bill Clinton, but I can tell you John F. Kennedy did the right things. He cut taxes, he brought prosperity, and I would vote for John F. Kennedy again if he were on the ballot today because of his conservative leadership.
RedState editor Ben Howe interpreted these comments as Falwell’s “admission that yes, Trump could be a sexual predator and Falwell wouldn’t withdraw his support because SCOTUS.” Howe, who has deep connections to Liberty University, called on Falwell to resign as the school’s president in a column on October 13.
Students at Liberty University also reacted strongly against Falwell’s interview. They published a statement that said Falwell’s reaction to allegations against Donald Trump suggested that sexual assault was “a shoulder-shrugging issue rather than an atrocity which plagues college campuses across America, including our own.”
The statement noted that “Donald Trump does not represent our values,” and most students, whom Falwell ostensibly represents as president of Liberty University, “want nothing to do with [Trump].”
“A majority of Liberty students, faculty, and staff feel as we do,” the statement said. “Donald Trump received a pitiful 90 votes from Liberty students in Virginia’s primary election, a colossal rejection of his campaign.”
The Washington Post reported 1,300 students had signed the statement as of Thursday.