Donald Trump’s Iowa campaign held a precinct captain training for their volunteers on Saturday afternoon at a hotel in West Des Moines. The first portion was also live-streamed for volunteers around the state, with about 50 people appearing to watch it on YouTube. Reporters from Starting Line and the New York Times weren’t allowed into the actual room, so I made due watching it from home (it occasionally cut in and out, so it’s possible I missed a few quotes).
The live-streamed portion of the training lasted only about a mere 20 minutes, far shorter than your typical Democratic training, and was more a motivational session than in-depth instruction. The biggest notable takeaway from the part I could listen to: Trump will know if you win.
“[Trump’s] in all the details,” Tana Goertz, Trump’s enthusiastic state co-chair and former The Apprentice contestant, told the volunteers. “If you’re competitive like I am, I want to win my precinct, just like you guys want to do. So at the end of caucus night, Mr. Trump is going to know who won their precincts. And he’s going to know that you were the precinct leader that won your precinct. And he is in all the details. And I know he does nice things. So I know you will be recognized and a lot more could happen, we don’t know. Go, do the best you can, and look at it like a competition. Everyone’s going to win their precinct and get better numbers than I’m going to get in mine, or I’m going to get fired. No, I’m just kidding, I’m not going to get fired.”
Near the beginning of the training, Goertz spoke with the attendees about caucus night, encouraging a positive approach in their precinct. She warned against getting into arguments with others, even if they differed on policy, and stick to promoting why they support Trump.
A campaign staffer named Matt then demonstrated how to use an app called Ground Game 2 that loads up voter lists of people in the volunteers’ precinct.
“This is also a tool for you to help capture data that we can then analyze and use to communicate further,” Matt explained.
It was a relatively brief run-through of how to use the voter contact system. The screen showing the app was difficult to see on the live-stream; one hopes it’s relatively self-explanatory.
“It looks like a long walk, maybe we should call these guys instead of walking out there,” Matt joked when the first house that came up on the map was in the middle of a rural field.
“That’s nothing around here, Matt,” a volunteer said as the group laughed.
“Sometimes people are going to throw a lot of heat at you because, I don’t know, people find our candidate controversial, can you believe that?” Matt said of what voters might encounter when calling through their list.
The call script was a very basic ID script, simply asking who the voter would support if the caucus was held today, and who their second choice is. Then the caller would log which issue was the most important to them. Finally they ask about a yard sign and then try to collect the voter’s email address.
“If they’re concerned about the border, it’s immigration. If they’re worried about China and economics, it’s trade. If they’re worried about space aliens stealing the fillings out of their teeth, it’s ‘Other,'” Matt explained on issue coding.
They didn’t have any volunteers come up and do a practice call, nor did they run through any talking points. It seemed odd that the focus would be on straight ID calls at this point in the campaign, so close to caucus night.
“Who’s not super-jazzed up about that?” the always excited Goertz exclaimed about the app as Matt finished.
There was also a “caucusing is easy” vibe to the training (the phrase Hillary Clinton’s team often used in trainings in 2008), aimed at demystifying the process for new voters. With many of Trump’s voters likely being new to the caucus, this tactic could be crucial to the campaign’s success.
“The whole process only takes about an hour,” a staffer named Marshall reassured the volunteers. “It does not look like the British Parliament in your local church or community center. There’s no quarreling going on – that’s the Democrats!”
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s a very simple process,” Matt encouraged volunteers to tell voters who hadn’t caucused before and who may have heard “nightmare” stories of a complicated process.
The staffers encouraged the precinct captains to speak in front of their neighbors on why they support Trump on caucus night, and offered to supply extra talking points for people who needed more help.
There were also a few pieces of advice and instruction that didn’t seem too accurate.
“Even if you’re a volunteer dialing from your own home phone – you still gotta say at the end, ‘I’m a volunteer, but this call was paid for by Donald J Trump for President.’ It’s just a thing, it’s a legal thing, we have no control over that,” Matt told the volunteers at one point. That is never something I’ve heard of having to do, even when making calls from a campaign office as paid staff.
“There was one [caucus site] in Jasper County, where I live in, in Newton, it’s in a living room, it’s three or four people, they’re out of there in like ten minutes,” Marshall said. I highly doubt there’s any precincts like that this year, and even if so, it’d only be a very small handful.
Overall, it was a rather simplistic training that didn’t provide too many solid details or an interactive experience for their volunteers (though, again, this is only what was shown on the live-stream). A single county precinct captain training run by a Hillary Clinton field office would have looked more professional than this.
Still, Republican campaigns as a whole have never run nearly as advanced operations as Democrats in the Iowa Caucus, and Republican staff talent is split between the multitude of candidates. So this may be on a similar level to other Republicans’ operations. And it did provide good motivation and some helpful tips and direction to their most active supporters. However, Trump’s campaign faces the most daunting task: turning out a large section of voters who haven’t caucused before. They’re right on the messaging used for that in this training, but it’s unclear if this is an advanced enough operation to pull it off.
by Pat Rynard