After an early-morning start in Durham, I landed in Des Moines at 11:00am with two other members of DPR’s staff. Excited and anxious, we asked a passerby to take a picture of us in front of the large “Iowa Caucus: First in the Nation” banner than hung along the small airport walkway.
I hadn’t expected our reporting to start in the Uber ride to our hotel, but, as we quickly discovered, Iowa voters are friendly and eager to talk to out-of-staters.
Our driver was a tall, silver-haired man from the area. He initially spoke to Mac, one of the DPR writers on the trip, about the Chicago Cubs’ prospects for the upcoming season. Without an MLB team in the Iowa, many here are Cubs fans.
It wasn’t long until the conversation turned to politics. Mac asked him who he was planning on caucusing for, and he promptly replied that he was leaning toward Trump. His answer took me by surprise – never before in Duke’s ivory towers had I met a Trump supporter – but it probably shouldn’t have, given the latest polls have Trump at just above 30% among Republicans in the state.
He said he liked Trump’s confidence, although his arrogance annoyed him. And just as the media has widely reported, it wasn’t Trump’s specific policies that had earned his support, but rather a belief in Trump’s ability to “get things done.” He said Trump “wouldn’t take crap from anybody, including Putin” and that he’d be able to improve trade deals with other countries, like China.
I asked him what he specifically thought Trump could do to improve our global trade position. He responded that he wasn’t sure, but he knew that Trump would know what to do when he got to the negotiating table. This appears to be the power of Trump’s appeal – a confidence in the person, rather than an understanding of the policies. He noted that the Republican National Committee (RNC) did not want Trump nor Cruz to win, but this seemed to be a positive rather than a negative. His response to the RNC: “Piss on them.”
Our driver was engaging and polite throughout the 20-minute ride, and upon arrival at our hotel recommended that we have lunch at a nearby barbecue restaurant.
The food was delicious, and our waiter, Timothy, was just as friendly as our Uber driver had been. He was 22, hadn’t gone to college, and lived with his girlfriend and two Huskies.
Before we left, I asked him some questions about his political leanings. He was a strong Bernie Sanders supporter who mainly relied upon the Huffington Post for his news. He was a bit more issue-oriented than our Uber driver had been, specifically citing Sanders’ plans to help the middle class by reducing higher education costs and increasing welfare benefits. He was still on his mom’s health insurance plan (the restaurant didn’t provide health insurance), and supported Sanders’ plan for universal insurance because it would give him greater security after he turned 26 (the age when parental insurance no longer covers children).
We walked back to the hotel to check-in and get ready for a Ted Cruz rally. Our time in Iowa had just begun and we’d already seen two archetypical voters from this year’s national campaign narrative – the white, middle-aged male Trump supporter who put the Trump brand above policies, and the young liberal who was feeling the Bern. I’d call it the tale of two cities, but we’ll be visiting far more than that as we travel across the state in the run-up to the caucus.