Sleepless in Des Moines: Trump goes straight from debate to stump in Iowa

Fresh off a feisty night of sparring with Ted Cruz, Trump exchanges big rallies for the intimacy of the campaign trail and tells supporters: ‘I really want to win Iowa’

Donald Trump turned from an apparent victory in the battle of the airwaves to the start of an intense period of retail politics on Friday, as he flew without sleep to Iowa to try to persuade his supporters to vote on 1 February.

“I love you folks. Caucus, caucus, caucus,” roared the real-estate magnate as he squeezed minders and journalists into a small venue far removed from the bright lights of the television studios that have propelled his unlikely candidacy so far.

There was a palpable new confidence at Trump’s first campaign appearance since his clash with Senator Ted Cruz in Thursday night’s debate in Charleston, as he appeared to gain new respect from pundits for putting down his rival’s attack on New Yorkers.

“I really want to win Iowa,” he said. “People tell me, ‘Just say you want to do well and then it won’t be a disappointment if you come second,’ but we have a relationship with the evangelicals, with the Tea Party. I am going to be here so much over the next few weeks, you are going to get sick of me.”

Despite scepticism among his rivals, Trump insists the passion of his supporters will translate into turnout on 1 February.

“When I was getting the biggest crowds,” he said, “people kept saying maybe they won’t show up to vote, but they were waiting seven hours to see me in the cold – and that’s before they hear what I have to say.”

As he draws level again with Cruz in polls in the state, Trump’s staff in Iowa are switching their efforts to the laborious process of converting support into attendance at the caucuses in 16 days’ time. Crucially, this involves making sure supporters – who will often be voting for the first time – are signed up as Republicans and know how the system works.

“Register in a secret ballot,” Trump state co-chair and former Apprentice contestant Tana Goertz said in Urbandale on Friday, as a small audience of often baseball cap-wearing men waited for their candidate to appear.

“I can’t understand why you would not be proud, but for those who are a little chicken just write down ‘Trump’ in the secret ballot and play your part in making America great again. If you can write ‘T-R-U-M-P’, you have just done it.”

This level of retail politics is new to Trump, who is used to addressing crowds of several thousand rather than a couple of hundred in a farming museum outside Des Moines. The switch of focus takes some getting used to.

“Guys,” whispered a campaign aide on Friday, as the impatient crowd started slow-clapping to beckon him on stage. “Can you please be quiet. Mr Trump is doing interviews.”

Some commentators have questioned the urgency of Trump’s ground campaign and the experience of his staff, but a disciplined team in Urbandale showed signs of learning from early stumbles. They kept any protesters far away and journalists were on a short leash throughout.

“You talk to people and you leave,” a security guard told reporters attempting to interview members of the crowd.

Even in the small venues, there is an expectation game to play.

“This was supposed to be a small gathering, maybe 30-40 people, but look what happens,” said Trump, waving at the crowd of perhaps 200 at most.

On Friday, Trump, who admitted to having had no sleep since his appearance in South Carolina, began free associating.

“I order 4,000 televisions. I order them from South Korea. Unfortunately we don’t make television sets,” he told a silent crowd. “It’s all made out of South Korea. Except for Sony which is made in Japan, and they’ve lost their way a bit. It’s not as good.
“In all fairness Japan is doing great. You look at Komatsu tractors, they’re doing great. Doing a big job on John Deere. You know, I am one of John Deere’s biggest customers.”

The crowd got more animated when he turned to Obamacare, terrorism and immigration, in response to a series of familiar questions.

“It’s not a silent majority,” he told them. “It’s an angry majority.”

Such populism often appears in stark contrast to the purer conservative message of opponents such as Cruz. Trump celebrates the fact that he is the only Republican – apart from former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee – to advocate protecting social security. It is “a contract” Americans have already paid for, he says.

In Des Moines, he offered a woman complaining of high student debt a job with his company if she can’t find one elsewhere. It was impossible to tell if that was a gesture on which he would ever follow through.

The “bromance” between Trump and Cruz finally ended in Thursday’s debate. The two had circled each other for months, declining to attack. In Charleston, the Republican rivals went back and forth, sparring about Trump’s allegations that Cruz was not eligible to be president and over Cruz’s attack on Trump for embodying “New York values”.

Cruz came prepared on the subject of whether his birth in Canada kept him from being a natural-born citizen. The Harvard Law graduate jibed: “I’ve spent my entire life defending the constitution before the US supreme court. And I’ll tell you, I’m not going to be taking legal advice from Donald Trump.”

However, Cruz stumbled when defending his “New York values” remark. In the Texas senator’s eyes, “everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro-gay marriage, focus around money and the media”.

Trump fired back a retort that rallied an otherwise hostile debate audience to his side.

Invoking the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, Trump said: “When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York.

“The people in New York fought and fought and fought, and we saw more death, and even the smell of death – nobody understood it. And it was with us for months, the smell, the air.”

After the debate Rick Tyler, Cruz’s national spokesman, joked with reporters about the exchanges.

“I thought you’d be so happy,” he said. “You wanted this fight for so long.”

He went on to more soberly describe this as a contrast between the two.

“If there’s a difference on policy, we’ll point out the difference on policy,” Tyler said. “When we get attacked on silly things like birther conspiracies, we respond.”

From a detached perspective, Chris Christie strategist Mike DuHaime told reporters: “Obviously now [Trump and Cruz] are locking horns for who is going to win Iowa.”

DuHaime thought that “Iowa is going to be seen as a really tough loss for whoever doesn’t win. So I think they both see opportunities to win right now and now they are going to go at each other.”

He declined to make any predictions, though.

“It’s only a couple more weeks until Iowa,” DuHaime said. “I see Cruz has shifted what he needs to do and Trump is confident as ever that he’s doing well.”

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