In Iowa

Blaine Greteman

In my staunchly Democratic college town, going to a Republican caucus seemed about as illicit as attending a dog-kicking convention: what kind of monsters would I encounter? But after the botched caucuses and Joe Biden’s humiliating defeat four years ago, the Democratic Party has all but abandoned the state: the GOP is the only game in town.

Yesterday’s caucus was held in the cafeteria of my local elementary school. I sat next to two older guys who, true to stereotype, spent thirty minutes discussing their snowblowers. A little less predictable, they both had new rechargeable electric models, and were trading tips about the best way to replace the lithium battery packs in sub-zero temperatures without breaking them.

Signs on the walls reinforced the values of ‘Iowa Nice’ for the children who normally ate there. Bewilderingly, in our landlocked state, the school’s mascot is a shark: according to the posters, ‘school sharks’ are ‘respectful, responsible and resilient’, which means they form orderly lines and remain quietly seated until dismissed.

Despite Trump’s resounding victory, and his supporters’ reputation for carnivalesque misrule, our local caucus-goers seemed to have fully absorbed those three Rs. The event opened with a pledge of allegiance followed by a prayer, offered by a volunteer, asking God to guide participants towards a ‘civil conversation’ and a process that would lead to ‘unity in our nation’. I’ve never heard an actual prayer at a comparable Democratic event, but the hope behind it was familiar.

And, despite the overheated rhetoric from candidates, political pundits and media analysts, the voters who dragged themselves across town in sub-zero temperatures seemed to have modest ambitions for the country. One supporter of each candidate addressed the crowd. The Ron DeSantis voter, an immigrant who had become an American citizen, was the most eloquent and best prepared, with a message that focused on technocratic competence. The Vivek Ramaswamy supporter, shy and apologetic about his stutter, won the most applause, with a message about selecting someone who was not a politician by trade. (Ramaswamy has now dropped out of the race.) The Trump supporter, an elderly woman who had to be helped out of her seat by her grandchild, had moved to Iowa from Texas and said she was worried about drugs coming across the border. And the very elderly man who rose to speak for Nikki Haley said it was time for a woman president.

All of them claimed (more naive than cynical, I think) that their candidate could unify the country – the message Joe Biden delivered in 2020 – though they didn’t say how. What it means ‘to unify the country’ depends quite a lot on who you’re willing to include in your idea of ‘the country’, and the Republican candidates have all made it clear that, for them, some citizens are a lot more equal than others.

At the final tally, Ramaswamy had two votes, DeSantis ten, Trump thirteen and Haley 36. Someone shouted out that Biden had 211, only to be reminded by the secretary that ‘we’re not in Chicago.’ I thought it was a pretty good joke, rather than a dangerous case of election denialism, though maybe I’m naive too. Still, if 61 Republicans in a school cafeteria are anything to go by, an ever more divided nation isn’t what the people themselves want. The trouble is, that won’t stop them voting for someone who will only make it worse.


  • 24 January 2024 at 6:05pm
    sterilepromontory says:
    Those in the U.K. who watched the slide into Brexit should understand how frustrated we American Democrats feel, watching a possible slide toward another Trump administration (though "administration" doesn't exactly describe the chaos of 2016 to 2020).