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Romney won't find the mainstream in Lynchburg

When we learned yesterday that Mitt Romney would deliver the commencement address at Liberty University in three weeks, I had the same question Steve Kornacki raised: "Wouldn't it have made more sense to do this last year?"

Romney's campaign strategy has always been painfully obvious: run to the hard right during the primaries; persuade the Republican base that he no longer holds any of the beliefs he used to embrace; lock up the nomination; then shake the Etch A Sketch and move towards the American mainstream.

With this in mind, if Romney agreed to speak at Liberty last May, it would have made perfect sense. But the date on yesterday's press release from the evangelical college clearly said 2012.

Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. announced today that Gov. Mitt Romney will address Liberty University graduates at the 2012 Commencement ceremony to be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 12, at Arthur L.Williams Stadium.

"We are delighted that Governor Romney will join us to celebrate Commencement with Liberty's 2012 graduates," said Liberty Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. "This will be a historic event for Liberty University reminiscent of the visits of Governor, and then presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan to Liberty's campus in 1980 and of President George H.W. Bush who spoke at Liberty's 1990 Commencement ceremony."

This will be Governor Romney's first appearance at Liberty University.

If Romney hoped to move towards the middle now that he's the presumptive nominee, this trip to Lynchburg, Va., represents a dramatic detour.

Liberty University, after all, was created by the late radical televangelist Jerry Falwell -- perhaps best known for blaming the 9/11 attacks on Americans -- and as Rachel explained last night, continues to be a "hard liner institution against the homosexual menace."

The fact that Romney is choosing now to speak at the school's commencement suggests he's still concerned about shoring up the religious right's support -- or at a minimum, he's hoping to win by mobilizing the base, centrists be damned.

Whatever the motivation, if Romney's looking for the American mainstream, he won't find it at Liberty.