Donald Trump took the stage at Liberty University on Monday, drawing comparisons between himself and its iconic founder, Jerry Falwell, and vowing to "protect Christianity."
The front-running GOP presidential candidate spoke to 13,000 people attending the speech at the Virginia school, after a glowing introduction from the late founder's son, Jerry Falwell Jr., who said the politically incorrect real estate mogul reminded him of his father.
The speech was broadcast on Newsmax TV
"I knew his father a little bit," Trump said. "To be compared to his father is really an honor for me. I want to thank Jerry for saying that."
Trump drew one of his biggest applause responses for denouncing the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
"We're going to protect Christianity," he declared. "I asked Jerry and some of the fold, 2 Corinthians 3:17: 'Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty'," he said. "It is so true … so representative of what's taken place."
"Christianity is under siege," he added. "Very bad things are happening … Somehow we have to unify, we have to band together, we have to do really in a really large version what they've done at Liberty ... You band together, you've created one of the great universities, colleges anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world, and that's what our country has to do around Christianity."
"When you look at Syria ... if you're Christian, they're chopping heads, they're under siege!" Trump warned. "Very bad things are happening."
Noting what Trump called a "record" crowd listening to his speech at the university, and said he was "dedicating the record to the late, great Martin Luther King, Jr."
Monday was the federal holiday dedicated to the legendary civil rights preacher and activist.
"It is a movement going on," Trump declared. "We want to take our country back," later revising his campaign theme from "We're going to make America great again," to "We're going to make America great again, greater than ever before."
"You're not getting a real picture of the silent majority," Trump added in his criticism of media coverage of his campaign. "It's a noisy majority, people want to see greatness for this country."
The audience gave Trump another huge applause when he dug into President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
"Our country is disappearing," Trump said. "You look at the kind of deals we make, you look at what's happening, our country is going in the wrong direction … and it's got to be stopped and stopped fast. We can't go another four years. I know that maybe Hillary will be here, and if she is, you can play this back. We can't have another four years of Barack Obama, we can't have another four years of Hillary Clinton."
Trump replayed his frequent criticism of American leadership, calling the nuclear deal with Iran — despite the release of American hostages on the day sanctions were officially lifted — an example of dire mismanagement.
"You could have the prisoners out for nothing," noting the Iranian negotiators "made like this incredible deal."
"We have people who don't know what they're doing," he said. "We want to be politically correct, it's just not working… we can't all be politically correct, it just takes too much time."
And the crowd cheered his promise to build up the military.
"We're going to make it so strong nobody's going to want to mess with us — that's really what we have to do," he said. "And in the end, that's cheaper than this nonsense right now than we're doing right now where nobody respects us, we don't know what we're doing, we can't beat ISIS."
"These generals, they get up and they talk on television. They're being interviewed. I don't want generals to be interviewed ... I don't want that kind of a general. I want a general where we knock the hell out of 'em," Trump declared.
He also repeated themes he's sounded before on his campaign: a vow to build a wall to keep illegal immigrants from pouring into the country along the southern border, defeat ISIS, and engineer better trade deals for America.
Trump also didn't shy away from interacting with an appreciative crowd, particularly during his condemnation of the war on Christmas.
"We're going to be saying Merry Christmas again," he promised. "I have friends that aren't Christian. They like to say Merry Christmas. Everybody loves it. But we've taken it out of the vocabulary. It's not going to happen, okay?"
When an audience member shouted out "We love you!" Trump replied, "I love you too."
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