Like rap music and The Simpsons, the celebrity real-estate mogul Donald Trump, who burst onto the scene looking like a six-weeks’ fad in the 1980s, still has the look of a six-weeks’ fad 30-some-odd years later. Clearly the doubters’ assumptions need to be reexamined. Straight Outta Compton shows a rising generation enraptured with rap, Bart and Lisa have been on the air longer than Gunsmoke, and the Donald looks like an increasingly plausible candidate for the presidency of the United States.
“The polls have been nothing short of tremendous,” Trump told an overflow crowd at a convention center here on August 25. This was not one of his exaggerations. When Trump declared for the Republican nomination in June, few news outlets paid attention. But his crude and colorful attacks on illegal immigration turned the primary into a spectacle, and were responsible for making the first Republican debate the most-watched nonsports event in the history of cable TV. Now an Ipsos poll shows Trump running at 32 percent among Republicans nationally, twice as popular as runner-up Jeb Bush. The arrival of savvy campaign operatives in Iowa and New Hampshire has brought organizational sinew to his effort. A CNN poll has Trump running only 6 points behind Hillary Clinton among all voters—a better showing than the supposedly mainstream alternative, Bush.
The art of the deal
Pretty Dubuque, set amid limestone bluffs and rolling farmland along the Mississippi, has nominated only one Republican to its board of supervisors in the last half-century. There is still a labor newspaper here, and the Democrats are of a zealous stripe. The socialistic Vermonter Bernie Sanders drew 2,500 people to a rally for his presidential campaign at nearby Loras College a few weeks ago, while Hillary Clinton managed only 440 at the Grand River Center. German- and Irish-Catholic, with several orders of nuns still resident, Dubuque is the oldest city in Iowa. It’s not Republican country, but maybe it is Trump country. A lead-mining, farming, and furniture-making town across the river from the Wisconsin-Illinois border, the place has been deindustrialized in recent decades. Casinos have replaced factories and department stores as the economic motor of the city’s downtown. The help-wanted ads in the local daily, the Telegraph-Herald, are pathetic, not even reaching a full page: a few paper routes at the TH itself, waitstaff at Domino’s, a part-time job at the library. Trump’s Tuesday night draw at the Grand River Center was about 3,000.
Many of the voters who showed up were checking Trump out, rather than rallying to his side. Michael Goodart, a 35-year-old vendor of campaign buttons wearing the jersey of St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, could tell. His generic conservative buttons (the Don’t-Tread-on-Me Gadsden flag, the Second Amendment button with the green assault weapon and a defiant “Come and take it” written across it) were selling twice as fast as Trump-for-president buttons. But it is striking how heavily independents and Democrats were represented, and the wide variety of reasons they gave for being there. The very first people in the door when it opened just before 5 were Judy Teal, 70, and her husband Tom, 71, of Dubuque. They’re retired from Nordstrom’s and the nearby John Deere factory, respectively. They were Hillary backers in 2008, but they’re Trump backers now, Judy out of a respect for Trump’s independence (“Mr. Trump is his own man. . . . He’s not in anybody’s back pocket”), Tom out of a sense of national humiliation (“China is just laughing at us”).
The crowd skews old, but Republicans skew old, and Iowa skews old. It has the fifth-heaviest concentration of senior citizens in the country. Relative to other Republican rallies here, this group is fairly young. Burt Ford, a 47-year-old on active-duty military service who is also keen on Scott Walker and Ben Carson, likes the way there’s “no bulls—t to the guy.” Brett Morris, 26, dislikes Trump’s statements on immigration but is tired of political correctness, and so is the 56-year-old conservative Jake Speed of Onalaska, Wisconsin, who thinks we’ve been “steered away from the First Amendment by intimidation.” Democrat Sandy Wilgenbusch, 48, wants to “put America first,” and she says we haven’t done that for the past four years. People are looking at Trump for solutions to a wide variety of problems.