Most people’s idea of a vacation is hitting the beach, going somewhere to relax, or hitting a big city to shop. I could’ve done that, but instead, I decided to go to Iowa to see the presidential candidates up close.
Along the way, I met Presidential candidates Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, John Kasich, and Rand Paul. Unfortunately, I missed Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio.
It was a road trip across a frozen landscape, filled with interesting experiences, let’s dive in.
It all began here in Chicago, where I ran into Martin O’Malley at the airport. We took a selfie, and I got on my plane to Waterloo, a small town in Iowa.
When I arrived, I realized just how small this airport was. There was a single terminal, with a free book selection offered by the local library. How cute!
We drove from the airport, and headed to our first event–John Kasich, the Republican Governor of Ohio.
Held in a small room at the Czech and Slovak museum, Kasich nonetheless had a full crowd (this was before everyone had arrived). The Kasich voters seemed to be reasonable, conservative, middle aged people. Very different from the Trump voters. Nearly everyone in the crowd was white, although given Iowa’s demographics, this is not terribly surprising.
A Kasich sign.
Kasich speaking to the crowd. Most of his speech was about taxes, with a dose of religion thrown in. He–like many of the candidates, is a devout Christian, something that plays well in Iowa. He seemed like a very reasonable candidate. He (along with Hillary on the Democratic side) was eventually endorsed by the New York Times. Kasich was friendly, and when I met him, we talked about David Bowie.
Next we drove to see Ben Carson, the famous neurosurgeon and author who is running for President. I walked up to the bus and a woman came out. I asked her if she was working for the Ben Carson campaign. She laughed, and said, “No, we’re the Super PAC. We have all the money!”
While security at the Kasich event was essentially zero, at the Carson event it was crazy. Full on metal detectors and Secret Service. Police officers with guard dogs, and men with suits and sunglasses.
Carson gave a very Christian oriented speech, appealing to voters values and implying that America was being led astray by Barack Obama. Carson, the exact opposite of an angry person, seemed to appeal to voters who wanted a kind and quiet person in office, who was very conservative, but not harsh.
After Carson we stopped at a supermarket, and I saw Donald Trump on the cover of People, a magazine which normally focuses on celebrity gossip. This underlined just how much of a fusion between celebrity and politician Mr. Trump is.
Superbowl Sunday was right around the corner, and the grocery store had a display of sodas to get people ready for the big game. Somehow nothing feels more quintessentially American than the overconsumption of sugar while watching men get paid to crash into each other.
The next morning we went to Ted Cruz, the firebrand Texas Senator who delivered a fiery speech emphasizing very Conservative positions.
The crowd was heavily ideological, with people handing out “Don’t Believe the Liberal Media!” signs, which were, by the way, enthusiastically snapped up.
Panorama of the Cruz event.
Cruz with Iowa Rep. Steve King on the left. Cruz’s speech was very well received by this moderately sized, but very conservative crowd. Cruz seemed best able to play the crowd and get repeated cheers. He mixed in jokes, and kept people angry at the government and Obama. An effective politician. Yet, something about his demeanor seemed off to some people, I overheard a potential voter saying “I agree with everything he says, but he looks like a con man, doesn’t he?”
After the Cruz event we ran into a bus paid for by some sort of hemp interest group. I asked them if they were for legalizing marijuana and I immediately got a line which I’m sure they’ve had to say 1,000 times, “Hemp is NOT marijuana!” They proceeded to explain that hemp does not have enough THC to get you high, and that they were promoting hemp outside of political rallies. Seemed strange to me, but that’s the Iowa caucuses for you.
Next we went to Jeb Bush, a small event held at an Eagle’s lodge. He had a small crowd but a lot of press–befitting the family name, certainly.
He too had a conservative speech, but he seemed thoughtful and knowledgeable. Totally different from the public persona of his brother, George W. Bush. I read once that “Jeb was the smart one” and from seeing him in person, I’d have to agree. He certainly vastly exceeded my (low) expectations. The event felt slightly country club-ish, however, and I didn’t feel welcome with my long hair–a feeling I did not get at other events. In fact, I believe I may have been sneered at. The crowd was essentially all old white people. In an alternate universe, Jeb would’ve been a strong candidate for the Republican nomination, but there was just no enthusiasm for him this go around.
Next we hit Rand Paul, which was awesome. Very young crowd, and the only Republican crowd with any real number of minorities. There was a bit of a party vibe, with this custom painted Corvette parked outside the event.
More of the Corvette.
Panorama of the Paul event. He gave a very good speech which was really very impressive. He touched on criminal justice reform and was the only Republican who talked about broadening the base of the party, trying to attract minorities, etc. Based on the enthusiasm in the room, I expected he would do much better than he ended up doing in the final results.
Next we saw Bernie Sanders, which was a YUUUUUGGGEEEE event.
The room was absolutely packed, and, to be honest, it was probably violating fire code. It was just an insane amount of people in a medium sized room. Bernie was very impressive, and hit all of his core issues: income inequality, a rigged economy, etc. He had the most diverse crowd in all respects–people of all races, ages (including children) and seemingly every socioeconomic group. There was a lot of enthusiasm for him in the room and he received rousing applause.
This girl, far away from me, kept waving her Bernie sign, very cute!
More Bernie kids! There was a real family atmosphere here. That guy to the right of the girls was videotaping the entire event, he must have been an opposition researcher for the Republicans.
A Bernie sign.
Items for sale outside the event.
Another view of Bernie’s speech. He rushed out after the event, but I managed to get in a handshake!
Next I saw DONALD TRUMP. Sure, I didn’t have to capitalize that, but I feel like THE DONALD would want his name capitalized at all times. Why? “BECAUSE IT’S THE BEST.” He would say. As you can see, the security presence around him was tight.
There was a massive amount of merchandise outside, sold by 5+ vendors. The atmosphere felt more like a concert than a political rally–including 80’s rock hits and Adele before Trump came on.
Sometimes it was hard to tell if the items being sold were serious or a joke. Case in point: “HOT CHICKS FOR TRUMP!” Note the “Hillary for Prison” buttons as well.
There was quite a crowd, although it was actually pretty small for Trump. Perhaps 500 people? Not all the seats were filed, and an organizer said they had seats for 1,000.
Trump brought out his wife, Melania, daughter Ivanka, and his son-in-law. They went around with Trump after the speech where he signed items for quite a long time. This was the most celebrity-esque event by far. There are at least 8 secret service in this picture. He was HEAVILY protected.
There was an absolute rush of people getting Trump to sign things.
I got a signed hat!
We left the event, and re-entered the real world, to see this lonely guy trying to sell Trump items in the cold. Quite a shock.
The airport I left Iowa from coincidentally was the airport Trump landed in, so we got to check out the Trump jet.
So, that was that! An exciting trip to see the US political process firsthand. A couple things surprised me.
- You could get really, really close to many politicians and talk to them–I talked to John Kasich about David Bowie. Jeb Bush answered my question, Bernie Sanders shook my hand and I got an autographed hat from Trump, who asked me “Are you coming out to vote tonight?”
- I was also pleasantly surprised that so many cadidates took questions. There was one guy, Justin Scott, who went to many of the events I did, and he asked the candidates pointed questions about religion, Christianity, and Atheism. None of the candidates were even close to Atheists, but they all gave him a fair response and he wasn’t booed out of the room or anything.
- Stereotypes about voters were actually pretty applicable. The Trump crowd felt very different from the Sanders crowd which felt very different from the Bush crowd.
If you like politics, I’d highly recommend going to some events with the candidates. It was a lot of fun!