With less than a week to go until the Iowa caucuses, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump stopped by the Iowa Field House for a campaign rally last night.
Hoping to rally as many Hawkeyes to the polls as he can for Monday’s caucus, he started off with a bang, inviting members of the University of Iowa football team on stage. Tight end Peter Pekar individually endorsed Trump and held up a black and gold Hawkeyes jersey with “Trump” and “1” emblazoned on the back.
“We have a great football team here that I really enjoyed watching. That last game, I mean, maybe we could have done a little bit better,” Trump said, in reference to Iowa’s 45-16 loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Trump then launched into a somewhat standard, somewhat improvisational stump speech, ripping into the his standard gallery of rogues: China, Mexico, ISIS, President Obama, undocumented immigrants, feckless politicians, lobbyists, special interests and, of course, his fellow contenders for the GOP nomination.
“I’m watching these guys like Jeb Bush, low energy. So low energy. You fall asleep looking at him… Jeb has spent over a hundred million dollars on a campaign, and he’s down here in the toilet,” Trump said.
Ted Cruz also came in for some browbeating. “You know, Ted Cruz, the Canadian? Well, Ted is not happy,” Trump said, referring to Cruz’s second place status in Iowa polling.
Trump also offered a litany of his own very good poll numbers as proof of how “amazing” his campaign was, and even mused aloud that there was a lesson to be learned from it for the American educational system. “I’ve spent almost nothing [on my campaign] and I’m number one by a lot. Wouldn’t it be nice if our country could do that? So instead of spending the most per-pupil and having terrible results, what if we spent the least per-pupil and we have great results?”
As chilly as it may have been outside, the atmosphere among the 2,000 people packed into the Field House was decidedly heated. After referring to Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as “a communist,” a protestor threw a tomato at Trump, prompting a swift ejection by security.
Trump’s speech was interrupted throughout the night by protestors blowing metal whistles (which Trump told audience members to “rip out of the mouths” of protestors), screaming “fascist” and “racist” and holding up signs which read “End White Supremacy.”
Trump seemed convinced that, given some alone time, the protestors would come around to his side. “I always say I could take [a protestor] unless there’s a substance abuse problem, which there very well could be,” he said. “I could sit down with that person for ten or fifteen minutes and I think, really, they would come over to our side.”
Most of Trump’s speech, however, was much less conciliatory, with a good portion of it spent blasting the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal. “I just don’t understand how we could have made a deal where we’re somebody that’s a terror nation $150 billion dollars and we’re getting nothing,” he said. “[The Iranians] got no respect for our country, they have no respect for our leadership and it’s an absolute disgrace.”
The invective did not stay on the stage after Trump wrapped up the brief event, running a little under 40 minutes, with a call to caucus for him on Feb. 1.
Anti-Trump protestors greeted departing attendees with signs reading, “Hawkeyes Against Fascism” and “Love trumps Hate.” Several Trump supporters heckled the protestors on the way out (“Why aren’t any of you dumbasses voting?” said one) and one man grabbed a banner and shoved a protestor before storming out.
Besides vehement friends and foes of the real estate mogul, however, were a large number of people who seemed to be there less for the politics and more for the performance of it all. Two friends ran into each other outside before the rally, seemingly surprised to see each other.
“Are you here for real?” one asked.
“No, just extra credit for a class. You?”
“Nah. I’m just here for the show.”
The spectacle continues in Iowa.