Lynchburg, Va., apart from being the home of Liberty University, occupies a special place in Confederate history as the site of Gen. Jubal Early’s famous “train trick.”
It was June 1864. Outnumbered by the advancing Union Army, as legend has it, the Confederates under Early’s command needed to create the impression they had more troops than they really did. So they ran a single empty train in and out of the Lynchburg depot, “punctuating the sounds of locomotives and cars clanging and thundering over the switches with cheers, band music and the sound of rejoicing,” as one biography put it. Union forces beat a hasty retreat. The illusion worked.
Perhaps Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) can achieve a similar result Monday, when he launches his campaign at Liberty University, the evangelical college founded by Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg. Cruz too can count on a cheering crowd — he drew 10,000 enthusiasts when he spoke at Liberty last April — that will amplify his message.
But these are not the only reasons Liberty in Lynchburg is such a rich choice for Cruz.
It’s the perfect backdrop for his main themes. There is no better setting for a candidate who portrays himself as the party’s only true defender of American liberty against the elitists, the enemies of religious freedom and the “tyranny-style government” in Washington — embodied for Cruz most dramatically by the Affordable Care Act.
Liberty University didn’t just dislike Obamacare. It hated it. The university filed suit to fight it on the day the legislation passed — which happened to be March 23, 2010, five years ago to the day of Cruz’s announcement. The university challenged both the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act and the law’s contraceptive requirements, which the school argued violated its religious freedom. (The case was tossed out.)
Liberty is the perfect school to help the party’s right wing forget Cruz went to Princeton University and Harvard Law School. It may be the largest private nonprofit university in the country, in part because of its extensive online program, but no one calls it “elitist.” It’s ranked 8oth by U.S. News and World Report among regional universities in the South and is home to the Center for Creation Studies, described as communicating a “robust young-Earth creationist view of Earth history” that begins with “sound Biblical interpretation.” The last time he spoke there, Cruz made no mention of his Ivy League degrees but recalled fondly his memories of Second Baptist High School in Houston, where he was valedictorian, and how his wife was the daughter and granddaughter of missionaries.
Liberty is the perfect place for Cruz to brag about his record as Texas’s solicitor general. The cases he most likes to mention are his participation in the defense before the U.S. Supreme Court of Texas’s right to display the Ten Commandments on the Capitol grounds and the constitutionality of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Lynchburg is the perfect location for many of Cruz’s favorite founding fathers. If Cruz says, as he did in his last visit, that “religious liberty, the very first liberty in the Bill of Rights … has never been more imperiled than it is now,” he can point toward Montpelier, the home just 95 miles away of James Madison, who introduced the Bill of Rights. Cruz likes to talk about the Constitution serving as “chains to bind the mischief of government,” a reference, Cruz says, to a quote from Thomas Jefferson, whose home, Monticello, is a mere 68 miles to the northeast. (“In questions of power then,” Jefferson wrote in 1798, “let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution.”)
More illustrious are the words attributed to Patrick Henry — “Give me liberty or give me death” — as he spoke at the Virginia Convention of 1775 in Richmond, about 100 miles to the east exactly 240 years ago to the date (what timing) of Cruz’s Lynchburg announcement.
Virginia is in many respects the real birthplace of the Republic, which may be of special importance to Cruz, as he can’t very well return to his own birthplace for an announcement. He was born in Calgary. That’s in Canada — and his eligibility to run for the highest office in the land is a touchy subject.