Billionaire Donald Trump may have attracted unexpected support from Christian evangelicals in early voting states but at Regent University, an iconic conservative Christian institution in the coastal city of Virginia Beach, Virginia, he is a hard sell.
Trump appeared here Wednesday evening as part of his outreach to conservative religious voters.
You inspire us all. Pat Robertson, welcoming Donald Trump to Regent University
And while he got a full house and fulsome welcome from the university founder, televangelist Pat Robertson, it turns out that many students, faculty and visitors to this beautiful campus of manicured lawns and red brick Georgian architecture are not on board with him at all.
“As a Christian, there are some things I don’t like. I wish he was more refined,” said Sarah Martin, 24, a high school teacher and Regent alumnus who returned to campus Friday to attend an appearance by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at the school’s Presidential Candidate Forums. Trump appeared this past week in the days ahead of the upcoming Super Tuesday, when 11 states, including Virginia, vote on Republican presidential candidates.
“At the debates, he really set the tone,” Martin said of the frequent name-calling and aggressive manner in the Republican debates. She’s not for Cruz, either, though she wanted to hear him. “I’m Carson,” she said. “I love Ben Carson.” The retired neurosurgeon will appear Monday.
Her mom, Cindy Sanchez of Fredericksburg, Virginia, is a Cruz fan. Of Trump, she said, “He scares me as a Christian. It may backfire on us.”
He scares me as a Christian. It may backfire on us. Cindy Sanchez, Fredericksburg, Virginia, Cruz supporter
About a fourth of the U.S. electorate describe themselves as evangelicals. And Trump definitely garners support. In last week’s South Carolina Republican primary, exit polls show he won a plurality, 34 percent, of the evangelical vote in notching his win there.
Sophomore Josh Olson of Stafford, Virginia,. attended Trump’s forum this week. “I was pleasantly surprised,” he said. “It was actually informative.”
So, he’s for Trump? Um. no. “I’m not a supporter now,” he said as he headed out to the Cruz event to learn more about him. “This is what forums are for.”
But his friend Timothy Puder, a junior from the Tampa Bay area of Florida, is in the Trump camp, one of the few on this campus. “I’m in favor of Trump at this point. I think he’s business-savvy, and what the country needs right now is someone who is good with numbers,” Puder said. He added that he also liked Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., but he does not think he will win the nomination.
Madeline Salyers, a freshman from Grand Forks, North Dakota, said she understands why some voters might be drawn to Trump. “He tends to bring up a lot of points that people are afraid to bring up,” she said.
But she is not a Trump supporter. “Not many people here like Trump,” said Salyers. “It (the forum) sold out because people are very interested - it’s not necessarily out of support.”
Trump is a wild card. Will Hatch, student, Regent University
Walking hand in hand on a path on their way to the forum with Cruz, Shannon and Robbie Kuschel, adjunct professors at Regent, stopped to talk about Trump. Asked about Trump’s appeal to evangelicals, Shannon Kuschel said, “We don’t understand it. His track record over many years is not lined up with the conservative viewpoint.” Added her husband, “Not a lot of depth to his faith, either.”
“I have problems with his demeanor,” said Shannon. And Robbie said, “Evangelicals are such a broad category.” But the couple is clear: “He would not be our first choice or second choice,” said Robbie.
Student Annie Lewis has a preference in the presidential race - and it’s not even a Republican. “I’m more partial to Bernie Sanders,” said the junior from Fairfax, Virginia. “He can definitely speak to people.”
Professor Marianne Savell, sitting in the university’s Student Center and bouncing a baby from an alumnus who had come to see her, was clear who she didn’t want. “I’m not a Trumper,” she said.
A lot of (Trump’s) comments and overall policies are hateful. Christianity is more supposed to be going out and helping people out. Charlie Jones, junior at Regent University, Rubio supporter
Junior Elizabeth Corey of Norfolk, Virginia, who watched the Trump event, said, “Not the majority of people I know like Trump. Most people are leaning to Cruz or Rubio.” Trump’s faith, she said, “is not a strong point.”
Senior Stephen Clark of Gaithersburg, Maryland, thinks Trump “makes people engaged in what he’s saying,” but he’s not supporting him. “I like Rubio,” he said.
Charlie Jones, a junior from western Virginia, tried to put his finger on why he - and most people on campus - don’t like Trump.
“What he believes in does not align with beliefs of evangelical voters,” Jones said. “Generally around campus, the majority are not Trump supporters.
“A lot of his comments and overall policies are hateful,” said Jones. “Christianity is more supposed to be going out and helping people out.” Jones, who said he likes Rubio, opposes Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigration.
And Jonathon Sanchez, a high school student who is in an early college program at Regent, has strong views, too, about Trump. “I don’t like him,” he said. “I don’t think he represents Christianity.”
Founded by televangelist Rev. Pat Robertson in 1977 as Christian Broadcasting Network University, the school was renamed Regent University in 1990. CBN is located on campus.