Vice President Bush came to the heart of Moral Majority country today to woo the New Right and received not only the support of electronic evangelist Jerry Falwell but a blue necktie bearing the insignia of Falwell's Liberty Baptist College.
Bush fastened the tie around his neck to the cheers of 6,000 students and church members gathered in the college's auditorium here. Falwell beamed and said the reelection of Ronald Reagan and Bush next year "is no longer in question--it's guaranteed . . . . " Falwell added, gesturing to the vice president and Mrs. Bush, standing beside him: "God has a plan for the Bushes in our country."
Bush, in his speech defending Reagan defense policies, praised Falwell's vision, comparing him to the American Revolutionary War patriot Samuel Adams.
Bush said he had been looking forward to his first visit to the college "excitedly for a long time. I'd like to thank Jerry Falwell . . . what he stands for, his ministry, his influence for good." He added that his meetings this week with survivors of the Nazi Holocaust reminded him of "what can happen when people are not out for good, not out preaching the word."
Relations between the vice president and the leader of an evangelical empire that includes the conservative fundamentalist political organization Moral Majority have not always glowed so brightly. In 1980, at the Republican National Convention in Detroit, Falwell referred to Bush, a Republican moderate not yet on the Reagan ticket, as "a terrible choice" for Reagan's running mate. Falwell actively supported Republican Sen. Jesse Helms (N.C.) for vice president.
The New Right has criticized Bush for failure to promote the "Reagan revolution." Last year the vice president declined an invitation to speak at Falwell's Lynchburg school, citing a scheduling conflict.
The apparent rapprochement has been coming for some time. Falwell has met with Bush on at least three occasions at the White House, according to the vice president's office. In February Falwell said Bush had improved in performance and policy and would make "an excellent president."
Falwell said recently that he believes Reagan will run for reelection in 1984, and he said today that he would be "working in a nonpartisan way" for "Mr. Reagan's next six years . . . ." He said to Bush: "It sounds like you're both saying the same thing. That's why we voted for you. You have our prayers and support."
Not everyone here was as happy to see the vice president welcomed into the fold. The college's 230-member chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative campus political club, spent the last few days protesting Bush's visit by distributing flyers titled "So--What's Wrong With George Bush?" The leaflet criticizes him for supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, his former membership in the Trilateral Commission, the appointment of White House Chief of Staff James Baker and general lack of commitment to the "ideals of the Reagan Revolution."
Liberty College's YAF chapter was formed in 1980 and is now the largest in the country.
One YAF leader present for the Bush speech, Kevin Harley, a freshman and vice chairman of the chapter, explained the present Bush-Falwell accord this way: "Jerry's a pragmatist and he figures George Bush is going to be president and he wants to get in good with him." Harley, who was wearing a button that read, "Reagan, '84--Kemp, '88" described the campus YAF as being "to the right of Jerry Falwell, and that's pretty hardcore."
Bush, Harley said, "may be coming over to our side a little, and Jerry's a pretty smart guy. He wants to stay popular. We are still young ideologists and maybe when we've been through as many battles as him Falwell we'll change. But I hope not."