DES MOINES — Hours before President Donald Trump took the stage at a campaign rally here Thursday night, hundreds of people, including dozens of pre-credentialed journalists, were locked out. The fire marshal had declared the 7,000-plus venue at capacity.
Near the locked press entrance, one woman pressed her face and pounded her fists on the glass door, begging cops inside or journalists outside to get her in.
“I came all the way from Colombia,” she said, in a thick accent.
Trump’s rally at Drake University was only the beginning of the campaign’s show of force that will swarm Iowa this pre-caucus weekend. His supporters transformed the campus, usually dotted with the blue-and-white school colors, into a deep-red MAGAville for the night.
“It’s a little hot in this room! This room wasn’t designed for this many people,” Trump told the crowd inside Drake’s Knapp Center.
And Democrats better take notice.
The evening hinted about just what they’re up against: Democratic primary competitors crow about filling a room with 700; Trump draws 7,000. Sen. Bernie Sanders topped the Democratic primary field in fundraising last quarter with a $34.5 million haul, but Trump easily raised $46 million. While about a dozen candidates battle it out for the future of the Democratic Party, the GOP knows exactly where it’s going: wherever Trump says.
“All I have to do is say, ‘Uh, hello, Iowa. You have no choice but to vote for me.‘”
“Look, you know, I could make this speech really short. All I have to do is say, ‘Uh, hello, Iowa. You have no choice but to vote for me. Otherwise, everything you have loved in your entire life will be gone. Goodbye, Iowa. Have a good time,’” Trump said on stage “Instead, I work my ass off up here.”
Many would-be rally attendees left rather than stand in the freezing overnight temperatures, but a crowd of shivering supporters bundled up in freshly bought MAGA beanies and scarves and stuck it out. They ate up every word, as they watched the president speak on a Jumbotron with crackling audio.
Becky Borrett, a 66-year-old retired school teacher, didn’t mind being outside one bit. She’d traveled in from Cedar Rapids to visit her daughter and see the president. Knowing she wouldn’t get in, she donned a thick Trump 2020 beanie to cover her chemotherapy-ravaged hair and stood outside to take in the spectacle.
In addition to agreeing with the president’s stances on abortion, guns, and immigration, she said her experiences in and out of the hospital battling cancer through 10 years and four rounds of chemotherapy made her receptive to his message on health care — and skeptical of Democrats promising free care for everyone.
“I’m facing probably just months of my life left,” Borrett said. “So, I just think that when they say, ‘Health care for everyone,’ somebody’s got to pay for it. You’re not going to just have health care for everybody.”
“He wants people to be able to keep their own health care if they like it — and I do — and we worked hard all our lives for it,” she continued.
Minutes later, Trump, whose administration has a lawsuit pending until after the election that could invalidate Obamacare, made a similar pitch. Despite the fact that congressional Republicans have been trying and failing to pass their own health care bill for more than a decade, he told the crowd that if they deliver the House to the GOP, they’ll succeed.