With one day left until the Iowa Caucuses, Council Bluffs, named by the Lewis and Clark Expedition over 200 years ago, played host to the campaign of businessman Donald Trump. Trump’s campaign rally crowded close to 1,000 attendees into the gymnasium of Gerald W. Kirn Middle School. Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University and son of the famous televangelist, appeared alongside Trump in an event that focused primarily on issues of faith and traditional family values.
Falwell came on stage first and kicked off the rally by comparing the national debt of the United States to the financial struggles of Liberty University in its early days. According to Falwell it took many professional lawyers, accountants, financiers, and other businesspeople to get the finances of Liberty back in order. Falwell also made sure to note that just like a person would choose a doctor based on his or her ability rather than religious beliefs, voters should do the same in choosing the politicians to represent them – perhaps a veiled reference to the uncertainty surrounding Trump’s religious conviction. Falwell implied that, like the situation at Liberty, Trump’s business background and experience can reverse the direction of the United States despite their religious differences.
After Falwell’s introductory remarks in which he also mentioned a few anecdotes regarding Trump’s generosity, Trump came on stage to raucous applause and Adele’s hit song Rolling in the Deep. Trump then proceeded to answer interview question from Falwell on the Iran Deal, the Bowe Bergdahl exchange, and President Obama’s handling of ISIL. He alleged America is not getting treated fairly – the same reason he sat out the recent debate – and that he would restore America’s position of power in the world, claiming that he is “the most militaristic of all.” It was at this point in the program that Trump and Falwell proceeded to present a check for $100,000 to the charity Partners for Patriots, a non-profit dedicated to providing disabled veterans with service dogs.
Trump quickly got back to his core stump speech once the regular talk-show style program with Falwell resumed. He called for a complete cessation of letting Syrian refugees into America, comparing the refugees to a Trojan horse. He then pivoted to a discussion on his position in a myriad of polls both in the primary and the general election against Hillary Clinton to cheers and loud applause. The attendees of the rally also loudly booed and jeered as Trump took a moment to point to the media in the back of the gym saying, “the guys in the back, the press, [are] among the most dishonest people.”
Even as Trump changed gears onstage to focus on his family and that of Falwell’s, the crowd did not seem to be intrigued by the attempt to demonstrate family values. It appeared that the most loyal Trump voters do not care about his religious affiliation or ability to display traditional family values at this point in the campaign. Two middle-aged supporters who travelled from Omaha to attend the event disclosed that they did not care whether Trump was particularly religious or not. They did, however, note as positives Trump’s outsider status and that he would not be beholden to any special interests since he is self-funding much of his campaign. Another man in his 40s from Iowa who plans to caucus for Trump on Monday said he has supported Trump since the beginning due to his status as an outsider and Trump’s ability to stand up for himself.
As Trump’s campaign shifts its focus towards Evangelical voters in an attempt to undercut Senator Ted Cruz’s base, the support he has galvanized thus far does not seem to stem from these sources. The most loyal Trump supporters and probable caucus-goers have coalesced around Trump’s persona of strength and independence from the current political system. Interestingly, many of these same supporters when interviewed could also not easily come up with a candidate they would support in Trump’s absence.