At a Ted Cruz rally in Wilton, a rural town of 2,800 outside Iowa City, the concern for the future of America was evident. Among the crowd of older white voters clad in modest flannel, there existed a serious concern for moral degradation among American leaders and society in general. As one elder woman put it, “our country has forgotten God.” Cruz, however, had not.
One Cruz supporter named Larry Bradley, a longtime Republican who voted for Reagan in his first election and had caucused for every Republican since Bob Dole, praised Cruz for his consistent conservatism. He pointed to Cruz’s record on constitutional issues, most specifically the 2nd amendment. Concern for the 2nd amendment was prevalent among the crowd of rural Iowa voters. Instead of being turned off by Cruz’s isolation among Senate Republicans, Larry celebrated Cruz’s strident and divisive actions in the United States Senate. Unlike the rest of the Washington establishment, he explained excitedly, Cruz did what he said he would do upon arrival in Washington, including fighting to the point of a government shutdown to defund Obamacare. “100% of Democrats today are communists, and 90% of Republicans are socialists,” he explained. To him, Cruz was among the only trustworthy candidates.
Among the Evangelical crowd, Donald Trump was not very popular. Some called him a fake conservative, one woman decried him as “a wacko,” another voter “conceited” and lacking “concrete ideas.” Given his history with the Democratic Party, one voter warned that he would make deals, based on his Art of the Deal bestseller, instead of “making them make deals with you.”
Not all voters at the rally were Cruz supporters, however. At least not upon arrival. A grandmother and grandson pair sat towards the back of the room and explained their current thoughts. Both were undecided, yet open to supporting Cruz. The woman, Joan Sneddon, was a retired post-office employee and longtime Democrat who believed the party had turned its back on her. After voting for Barack Obama twice, in 2008 and 2012, she had become fed-up with his leadership. She complained, “he has no backbone” and is too “wishy washy.”
Some of her Democrat friends had reregistered as Republicans to vote for Trump, and she predicted many more Democrats would make the switch to whoever the Republican nominee was. “America is a great place to live,” she explained, “but I wish we were stronger.” When asked of her thoughts after Cruz’s speech, Joan responded, “I think I’m going to pick up a sign!” pointing to the stack near the door.
Joan’s grandson, a student at the University of Iowa, shared his grandmother’s concern for national security, citing ISIS and denouncing the acceptance of Syrian refugees into the United States under the current vetting system. He, however, was leaning towards voting for Bernie Sanders. While he shared Republicans’ stance on the 2nd amendment and foreign policy, he expressed support for Sanders’s domestic proposals on issues like healthcare. The two explained their liking for Sanders, and more apparent, their dislike for Hilary Clinton.
Although Cruz and Sanders may be polar opposites on policy, they share an appeal to voters like Joan Sneddon and her grandson given their frustration with the status quo in Washington and government in general. This attitude was potent among the crowd, perhaps most evident when Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley described last week’s snowstorm. As he explained how the snow forced the government to stop operating, an attendee interrupted and exclaimed “good!” to a crowd erupting in cheers and laughter.