Though the Republican presidential candidate front-runner of three months is still maintaining his lead in the polls and pulling in the biggest crowds of any GOP’er, his sparkle has diminished. He’s essentially run out of bombastic, ridiculous things to say, aside from the occasional Marco Rubio insult and poke at liberal media. Like any smart businessman, Trump is recognizing he needs a new approach to winning the Republican nomination. As a recent Washington Post interview Trump revealed, the real estate mogul is now shifting his strategy to that of an actual presidential campaign, complete with TV ads, more memorabilia, policies, and accessible fact sheets. It’s like he’s actually trying to win this thing and play by the rules.
Trump’s campaign shift was showcased at his first public rally in Waterloo, Iowa on Wednesday, the first time he’s set foot in the northeastern city and the first time he has been in the caucus state since dipping in national polls from his debate performance. A new t-shirt design with a similar logo to that of Ronald Reagan’s presidential emblem was handed out, complete with buttons, “Make America Great Again” hats, and posters.
A larger troop of volunteers was also staffing the Waterloo event, though unlike other presidential candidate campaigns, these volunteers were not outfitted with “sign up to caucus” clipboards and informational packets. Rather, they simply directed traffic and kept voters occupied while waiting for Trump. And of course, the usual Trump parade of loud Republicans and peering young voters came out to his noon event, but the vibe at this rally was mixed compared to previous Trump events in Iowa, such as in Boone and Dubuque just a month ago.
“I want to see how he handles himself once he starts to slide,” said Waterloo retired businessman John Sampson. “It’s easy when you’re way up there in the polls. When people are catching up to you… that’s when you really see the true colors of candidates.”
A group of right-leaning Waterloo retirees agreed with Sampson, saying Trump has to prove he is worthy of remaining at the top of the polls.
“I like what he says, and I like that he’s making people talk about the issues,” said one voter. “In some ways that’s attractive, that he’s not politically-correct, but in other ways… I don’t know. I don’t know if we want someone negotiating treaties and you don’t know what he’s going to say.”
Another noticeable shift in the Trump campaign at the Waterloo event was Iowa co-chair Tana Goertz’s introductory speech to the crowd of more than 1,200 people. Goertz typically begins her warm-up remarks by explaining how much Donald Trump has affected her life, that he is a good father and husband, that he cares about veterans, and that he wants to make America great again. In Waterloo, Goertz changed her tune at the end to more of a true campaign co-chair.
“I want you to turn to your neighbor and tell them one thing you like about Donald Trump,” said Goertz. “Now you all just caucused for Donald Trump. See, was that so hard? You need to all go do that in February. We need you to caucus for Donald Trump.”
When Goertz mentioned caucusing for Trump, she definitely caught the attention of the press in the room. The act of asking voters to caucus for a candidate has become more apparent in the past month in Iowa, especially at Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton, and Marco Rubio events. But at a Trump rally? His team was probably under the impression that they did not have to remind voters to turn out on caucus night in support of him. That would just happen, or at least they would ride this wave of dominance longer than early October to start getting serious.
And yet… Donald Trump has not changed a bit at his infamous rallies. He still begins by bragging about his polling status; he still rags on opponents Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush; he still touts his fool-proof plan of building a massive wall along the Mexican border (complete with a big door now); he still lacks concrete details of proposals; and he still fails to connect aspects of his speech from one topic to the next. Though the audience applauded him numerous times for his border control comments and veteran care remarks, the overall structure and lack of clarity that has become Trump’s stump speech remained.
The last noticeable shift of Donald Trump’s campaign that was displayed in Waterloo was his more theatrical and dramatic side. Several times, Trump included imitations of Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Los Angeles liberals, and the liberal media, and though the crowd enjoyed them, to the media, it came off as desperate and immature. This is not how a president acts, mocking others and repeating the same insults. Just 24 hours before and about 100 miles away, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was giving a speech in Davenport, and also included an impression of another candidate (Trump, nonetheless). Yet Clinton’s imitation was more humorous and showed a softer, more comfortable side of her. Trump’s mockery, on the other hand, left a poor taste in your mouth.
Trump’s campaign is by no means dead, but it lacks the momentum it once had in the summer. As many political insiders and experts pointed out several weeks ago, American voters have a short attention span and need to be entertained at every corner. And Trump provided that for a few months, but now voters are thirsty for something new. Rubio, Bush, Carly Fiorina, and even John Kasich could be the next sparkly candidate to voters, or it could be Trump again, if he runs a legitimate campaign and starts nailing debates because of the issues, not the personality attacks. There will probably be a steady building of a roller coaster of leaders in the Republican party over the next several weeks, and it might be decided all the way up to caucus night.
by Sarah Beckman