9/12/15, "Trump vs. Walker: A tale of two tailgates," Politico, Katie Glueck, Ames, Iowa
|9/12/15, Trump, Ames, Iowa, getty|
"At Iowa's big annual college football showdown, Donald Trump was the winner."
"The stage, the heat and the drunk college kids they faced were the same. But the receptions Scott Walker and Donald Trump received when they stumped together at the same Iowa event Saturday couldn't have been more different--or revealing.
“We want Trump! We want Trump!” chanted a pocket of students to Walker’s left as he spoke.
On his right, as Walker wrapped up, a woman warned a group of people who were pushing toward the front to calm down. Trump, she said, wasn’t here yet.
His day didn't get any better when he wended his way through the crowd after the speech — he faced tough, skeptical questioning from several voters over teacher pay, ethanol and global poverty. One voter mistook him for Marco Rubio.
When Trump finally arrived at the event, an hour or so after he was expected, he was hard to hear too--but it didn’t matter, because he was drowned out by a shrieking mob that surged toward him when he arrived, causing attendees to fall into each other and setting off a car alarm in the frenzy. Anti-Trump protestors had been waiting to take him on for hours, but they couldn’t break through the packed crowd. The real estate mogul took the stage to chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” and, impersonating a composer, he waved his hands in encouragement. He stayed under five minutes, leaving no time for in-depth questions, but enough for handshakes. He left attendees marveling at his appearance, with one half-jokingly asking his friend whether he’d ever wash his hand again after shaking Trump’s.
“That was better than the game!” exclaimed one attendee.
“That guy’s worth a billion dollars!” said another, leading others to speculate that it was much more.
Interviews with more than a dozen attendees at the event in Ames, and at an earlier Trump rally in Boone, Iowa, which drew hundreds, indicate that many turned up just out of curiosity, as several put it, interested to hear from the reality TV star in person and excited about the spectacle, but not necessarily committed to voting for him. But many others said they were seriously considering Trump, if they were not with him already.
Whatever their reasons for showing up, it was also clear that Walker, once considered near-unbeatable in Iowa, has not found a way to break through in the new Trump-dominated environment, and that’s coming across to voters.
“He’s really tanked,” said Dennis Gardiner, 53, an auditor from Des Moines who is uncommitted. “He’s a politician, and the rest of us are very tired of seeing nothing get done.”
Added Benjamin Rittgers, 39, of Ames, “Trump’s a stronger candidate. I like Walker as a governor.”
Trump fans pointed to the billionaire's blunt style, hardline approach to immigration, willingness to slam Washington and also to the fact that he's not a traditional politician--something Trump himself highlighted at length in Boone.
"I hear these politicians, I just can’t stand them anymore," Trump said. "Someone says, ‘you’re a politician,’ I say, ‘please, for three months I’ve been a politician.' You believe it?...Politicians are all talk and no action." Trump, on the other hand, painted himself as action-oriented -- as a train whizzed by, he said he was so geared toward action that when he was president, "that train's going to be moving a hell of a lot faster."
The billionaire also took swipes at several other GOP candidates: Ben Carson doesn't have the "energy;" Carly Fiorina is trailing him in the polls.
As for Rick Perry, a frequent Trump critic who dropped out of the race on Friday, "is a nice man" but "he's gone, good luck, oh, he was very nasty to me."
"But when you win, everybody's wonderful," jabbed Trump, who said people were surprised when he tweeted positively about Perry on Friday.
"But I think he's actually a nice guy."
Trump did not, however, go after Walker.
"Well I think Gov. Walker's a nice man," Trump said, when asked why he thought Walker had fallen in Iowa. "I know it's a big tumble, but he's certainly a nice man, I respect him, I like him."
Asked later the same question about what caused his slide, Walker maintained that by hitting all 99 counties and getting his message out, "We're going to win in Iowa."
But that will be difficult: rarely has a candidate led the polls in the summer, nosedived and then staged a comeback in time for the caucuses.
"Candidates like Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, others who have had a seasonal high, especially in the summer season, then find it a very difficult journey to get back to the top," said Bob Vander Plaats, an influential Iowa conservative, in an interview Friday. "People look at them initially, they went with them, then they found a better option and they leave with that better option. [If they leave] Trump, will they go back to Walker, or will they go to, say, a Ted Cruz? Historically it's fair to say they're going to look for somebody else."
Vander Plaats advised that Walker should keep highlighting an "outside-the-Beltway" message, something the governor, who made his name tackling unions, is trying to do with increasingly dramatic rhetoric.
Outlining his comeback path before he walked into the game Saturday, Walker offered a forceful though not entirely clear vision for how he plans to return to the top. "Talk to voters...and they'll tell you there's a number of us in their top two, three choices. As we continue getting our message out about wreaking havoc, we're the ones that can wreak havoc, do it against Washington."
Trump made a similar point Saturday, though far more directly.
"We need people with an aggressive tone, and we need people with tremendous energy," he said at his first rally. "And I'm your candidate, OK?"
The crowd roared."