Des Moines Diary: Duped by Trump Power?

January 28, 2016


Following the candidates in a campaign, one often gets lost in the mundane details behind which larger questions loom. It is a Thursday. In the evening there will be a GOP debate. At the same time, there will also be a Donald Trump rally – that is Trump’s way of boasting about his ability to outsmart the entire GOP establishment.

The lone columnist’s dilemma is thus both professional – which of these two events is the more interesting one to watch? – and moral – is it problematic for a writer to play into the hands of Trump by going to his rally rather than reward those candidates who play by the rules?

Would I, by choosing the latter, be duped by Trump? Or would I just be following the story where it leads? Would I, by choosing the debate, be duped by the power of traditional campaign practices? Or would I just be sensibly ignoring a provocation to focus on substance?

I still haven’t made up my mind.


What have I learned in Iowa thus far? That many voters still haven’t decided if they truly intend to send a message of belligerence this year to their respective parties.

I interviewed several Democratic voters that still weren’t sure if they are voting for her or for him. The heart says Sanders, the gut says Sanders, the itch tempts them to go with Sanders – but then there’s the head, and the head hasn’t yet made up its mind.

I also interviewed several GOP voters that still weren’t sure if they are voting for him or for HIM. The “him” is a Cruz or a Rubio or even a Bush (yes, I did happen to find a Bush voter by chance). The HIM – you know who that is.

Of course, it is not my place nor my intention to suggest to any American that he or she should vote for this or that candidate. But I think it is proper to cautiously say that for a non-American, who happens to think that world peace and stability very much depend on American leadership (or lack thereof), this belligerent mood of the American electorate is unsettling.


One quote from my book from four years ago (Obama vs. Romney, A Jewish Voter’s Guide) on the importance of Iowa in the race:

Iowa’s importance, derived from being a first in the nation primary state, is still undeniable. It played a decisive role when Jimmy Carter won the candidacy in 1976; it also did so in 2004, when it buried what seemed to be the surefire candidacy of Howard Dean; and it anointed the two who would represent the Democratic Party – John Kerry and John Edwards (George W. Bush was also victorious in Iowa in 2000). But even in years such as 1988 when Iowa's candidates were Democrat Richard Gephardt and Republican Robert Dole, Iowan’s sense of self-importance is always palpable. Like it or not, they project an image of important, bellwether voters.

So politicians flock to Iowa. Journalists follow on their tracks. They may determine nothing – after all, Iowa's 25 delegates represent about 1% of the total number of delegates in the Republican convention. And yet. Such a tiny fracture. Such an inflated sense of importance that it actually becomes a reality.

In this they remind me of the Jews.

That is: of the inflated sense of importance of the Jewish vote.


Watching the GOP candidates in Iowa, especially the performance of Senator Ted Cruz, I was reminded of a short comment I made following the Iowa caucus of 2012: “Next time you hear about Evangelical support for Israel, be reminded that the Iowa Evangelical vote didn’t send not even one evangelical to the top tier. Romney is a Mormon, Santorum and Gingrich Catholics, Paul a Randist. The true Evangelical supporters of Israel – Perry and Bachmann – didn’t do very well.” 


And here is another 2012 snippet, from a short article I wrote for The New York Times. It is still early in my current Iowa stay, but I can already tell you that most of this paragraph could have been written about 2016, that is, about the 2016 GOP race in Iowa – the Democratic race is a different story (I wrote about Sanders and Clinton on Tuesday):

During this windy week of campaigning alongside many other foreign journalists, I couldn’t help wondering: Do they not feel neglected amid all this talk about my country? In the more than one dozen campaign events I attended, I didn’t hear one word about Japan or Russia or Germany or France or Italy. Europe was mentioned occasionally, as in, “President Obama wants the United States to become like Europe, and we have to stop him.” China was mentioned sporadically; Brazil, maybe once. Israel? Every time. Israel and Iran. Good and evil.

What has changed? A little more of China. And ISIS. So we have Israel still alone on the good side, but the evil side has doubled in size.

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