I had the pleasure of traveling to Iowa for the caucus and attending rallies for the newly ranked top three candidates. Admittedly, it was my first time attending this kind of an event, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but what really struck me was how incredibly different they all felt.
First was Marco Rubio’s rally in Cedar Rapids. It was in a hotel ballroom, and the room was large- not huge- but the crowd filled it up easily. The stage extended into the middle of the room, giving it a more intimate feel. Rubio was introduced and came out with Senator Steve Daines, who spoke briefly before handing it back off to Rubio.
Seeing him in person only confirmed my previously held opinion: Rubio is hands down the best public speaker in the race. He is captivating without being dramatic. When Rubio spoke, it felt like he was speaking directly to you, not to you plus a room full of strangers. He is far more poised than any other candidate. He is charming. He is captivating. He just embodies the term “presidential.”
Rubio was genuinely funny. He even somehow kept his recycled jokes fresh; I guess that’s another benefit to being a great public speaker. And I am not easily humored.
After speaking, he continued to impress by staying long enough to greet and take pictures with everyone in the room who lined up afterwards, which incidentally was most of the crowd. I kept waiting to see some sign of anxiety from him about getting to his next event in time, but he didn’t appear to be in a hurry at all. I watched him greet everyone with enthusiasm, making a point to ask them questions and engage them. He made everyone feel like they mattered to him. Again: presidential embodiment.
After a couple hours in the car, we were back in Des Moines for the Cruz rally that started at 9:15 pm. Full disclosure here: I had been up since 3:45 in the morning, so I was probably DOA at that point, and maybe that clouded my judgment, but this one felt LONG. There were, no kidding, probably 7 or 8 speakers who came up before Cruz, and none of them were short-winded. I wondered if the Cruz supporters were getting impatient, but if they were, they didn’t show it. The energy in the room was high all night.
The video they played before the rally began highlighted Ted Cruz’s similarity to Ron Paul, which struck me as an odd choice of material simply because the attendees didn’t strike me as Ron Paul “people.” I’m not sure the video resonated with them, but it really didn’t matter at that point. Their energy communicated clearly that they are all in for Cruz no matter what. I did not see this level of energy at any other candidate’s event.
Ted Cruz is great. I voted for him in Texas. Honestly, his style of preaching at you instead of speaking to you doesn’t particularly appeal to me. The content of his speech, however, was right on key. He has great things to say. It felt much like a rock concert, complete with speakers blaring music from all corners of the room. And Iowa thoroughly enjoyed every minute.
Not at all saving the best for last, we traveled back to Cedar Rapids to attend a Trump rally. This event fell so short of my expectations, I’m not sure where to even begin. I’ve seen his rallies on TV, so I was expecting a rowdy crowd. This event was so subdued it was almost eerie.
Maybe people were annoyed with the 30 minute late start. Maybe Sarah Palin just didn’t get them amped up. For that, I couldn’t blame them. Palin came out to speak before Trump, and although she kept saying the most Sarah Palin things ever (accusing Steve King of standing out in corn fields huffing ethanol- AWKWARD), her tone was just flat. It was uncomfortable watching the crowd as she spoke- they looked like they wanted a reason to hoot and holler. They were literally on the edges of their seats, some of them already standing, just waiting for a reason to get excited. While I was there, they were never given a reason to do so.
Trump came out with a demeanor similar to Palin’s. We wondered aloud if he was sick or perhaps had lost his voice from so many speaking engagements. But even his attitude was muted. He wasn’t into it, and the crowd wasn’t into him. I left feeling like I had just been in an episode of the Twilight Zone, except instead of crazy events taking place, it was instead odd that nothing crazy happened. I think this was the first time during my trip I had real hope that he might not run away with this after all.
And then he really didn’t. And I know the big story here, rightfully so, is that Cruz topped Trump. I could not be happier that Trump did not pull off this win like he thought he would. Cruz worked hard, and is due all the credit.
During their rallies, Cruz and Rubio both tried to appeal to their audience by reminding voters that they needed to pick someone who could go on to win the election. It remains to be seen who that will be, but what I do know is that I leave Iowa still moved by Marco Rubio and his presence.