Waterloo, Iowa—A low-energy crowd greeted a low-energy Donald Trump in Waterloo, Iowa, Monday morning. Jeb Bush would have loved it. It may not tell us anything about caucus turnout—it was a workday morning, after all—but it was a strange moment nonetheless.
Trump acknowledged the low turnout early, calling the diminutive crowd “our very close friends,” then saying, “I’m gonna get out of here fast,” for his next event in Cedar Rapids. The crowd groaned, and Trump reassured them. “No, no, we’re gonna take care of you. Win, lose or draw, I love you all.” He gave a perfunctory 35-minute speech at what I can’t even call a rally.
Like an aging rock star, Trump did a medley of his hits. “We’ll build a big, beautiful wall.” “Common Core is gone.” “The Second Amendment is not going to be chipped away at.” “We’re gonna protect Christianity. You know Christianity is under siege folks, it’s under siege.”
It was a rambling, stream-of-consciousness performance, with little Trumpian agitation until he turned to talk of terror. Guns could have protected the people of Paris and San Bernardino, Trump told us. “If a few of you were there with guns strapped to you, they’re not going to kill 130 people. The press called them masterminds; they’re not masterminds, they’re animals.” In San Bernardino, he said, coworkers “gave wedding parties for [their killers]. They knew ’em. They knew ’em! If we had a couple of people with guns in that room who knew how to use ’em, that would have ended before the 14th person!”
Things got uglier when Trump started talking about the Syrian migrant crisis. He seemed to praise the Swedish mob that attacked migrant kids on Saturday: “There’s been tremendous crime. They’ve had enough. They’ve had enough of the stupidity.”
The crowd applauded Trump respectfully, but without a lot of fervor; his speech was never interrupted by their enthusiasm. “The big thing is, you gotta go caucus,” he ended. About his rivals he complained, “I hear they all have these great ground games, they’re spending all this money that they’re getting from the special interests. I spent less money than anybody else, and I have the best result.” We’ll see. Remarkably, there was no evidence of organizing even at this caucus-day rally; the campaign was selling its famous gear in the lobby, but not a soul was attempting to identify voters and make sure they know where their caucus site is.
I met Trump supporters who promised to caucus nonetheless. Michele Foley, an independent Mary Kay director, says she’s never caucused before but she will tonight for Trump. “I’m tired of where the country is going. I’m voting to take the country back, I’m not happy with anything Obama has done.” Still, Foley hasn’t been contacted by the campaign; she went to the website herself and figured out the caucus rules and where to show up at 7.
Likewise, Don Schallenbarger of Waterloo, a 79-year-old director of American Veterans, says he’s been contacted by other GOP campaigns but not Trump’s, yet he’ll show up for the front-runner Monday night nonetheless. “It’s just nice to hear someone say what he believes, so honestly, it means he’ll carry through with the things he says he’ll do.”
Trump stayed and signed autographs for about 100 people who pressed forward. Mostly everyone else filed to the exits to carry on with their day. Whether their day will include caucusing, we’ll learn tonight.