Jeb Bush travels to Lynchburg, Va., early Saturday morning, where the former Florida governor will give the commencement address at Liberty University, the evangelical Christian university founded by the late Jerry Falwell.
In doing so he becomes the second potential Republican presidential candidate to visit Liberty this year, following Ted Cruz, who gave an impressive 30-minute speech without notes or teleprompter assistance in the round and in front of 11,000 students back in March, when he announced his official candidacy for the GOP nomination.
Bush, of course, is not an “official” candidate at this time, though there’s nobody in the world who doesn’t believe he isn’t actually running for president. He continues to amass what has been hyped as a massive amount of money into his Right to Rise PAC, which, unlike his official campaign, can solicit unlimited funds. His camp has not announced when he will officially declare his candidacy for the GOP nomination for president, though Politico’s Mike Allen said on MSNBC earlier today an announcement will come sometime next month.
In a setting like Liberty, undoubtedly he’ll talk about faith. Bush is Catholic, converting to Roman Catholicism from Episcopalian back in 1996.
At a Hispanic evangelical gathering in Houston last week, Bush said, “There is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action and today in America it is important to respect and to protect Christians acting on their faith,” adding that, “not just talking about their faith, but there is a constitutional right and more importantly for a loving society Christians need to have the space to be able to act on their conscience.”
Some analysts say they’ll be watching closely to hear what Bush has to say about Israel, a country that American evangelicals feel a strong kinship with.
Bush has received some criticism from some Jewish groups earlier this year for not fully repudiating James Baker, former secretary of state under George H.W. Bush and a family friend of the Bushes for decades, after Baker criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not backing a two-state solution in the Middle East.
Bush has responded by saying that Baker is not a foreign policy adviser to his fledgling campaign.