Note From the Campaign Trail
First stop: Iowa
SIOUX CITY, IA — I’ve done this gig so many times I have Pavlovian reactions to certain airports, but having never flown here, I didn’t know Sioux City’s three-letter code is SUX. That’s the name of the car that raged-out ex-councilman Ron Miller demands when he takes the Detroit mayor hostage in Robocop. “I want something with reclining leather seats that goes really fast and gets really shitty gas mileage,” he shouts, Uzi in hand.
“How about a 6000 SUX?” a police captain bullhorns back. Miller likes it, but wants cruise control. “I want a recount!” he yells, stepping over bodies. “And no matter how it turns out, I want my old job back!” So the story connects. Who’d have thought?
Anyway, Sioux City’s cool, just never came this way.
I started covering presidential campaigns in 2004. The problem then was the events were fake. Candidate speeches were market-tested piles of words designed to attract the statistical middle of the middle. In post-event asides, aides pretended to socialize and fed you rehearsed spiels over beers about their candidate’s path to victory. Everything was canned. A memory that stands out is plastic clumps of grass scotch-taped to reporters’ seats on Howard Dean’s “grassroots express” charter. It was hard to divine much, traveling in that mechanized sales hell.
Now things are reversed. Reality is altered before you leave the house. Challengers are censored or deamplified, the incumbent “brushes off” debates, vote counts are shady (what’s with Iowa Democrats waiting until Super Tuesday to announce caucus results?), and even ballots are curated. Coverage of everyone but the President and whoever’s currently pushed as the “viable” Republican alternative to you-know-who (“Could Haley Beat Trump? Big Donors are Daring to Dream,” writes the New York Times) is a desert of lies and hit jobs. Even public reaction is edited. A controversial guest essay by lefty legal scholar Samuel Moyn in the Times arguing the Supreme Court should vote 9-0 to return Trump to the Colorado ballot appears devoid of approving comments. I could buy most disapproving, but it looks more like all. Who can tell, without checking for yourself, where public sentiment is now?
I try to bring an open mind to campaigns and not let concepts like “fringe” or “viable” color observations. This was once a misdemeanor offense, as press colleagues were so sure they could suppress candidates like Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul, they didn’t mind if the occasional oddball let it slip somewhere they were connecting with audiences. Now, forget journalism, just as a citizen I want to see what all the candidates look and sound like in person, what they say and how crowds react, because I can’t believe anything I read.
I have trips booked to see Republicans, Democrats, and independents in the next month. The plan tomorrow is a Trump rally, an hour from here. Check here for reports of different types, interviews with attendees, a trip to this candidate’s never-boring t-shirt counter, and so on. No parent likes being away from home, but a reporter who doesn’t get at least a little jazzed on the campaign trail, especially to start an election year as crazy as this one’s sure to be, probably isn’t doing it right. Good night, Racket. See you tomorrow.