Trump’s camp believes it does not need this kind of thing. In South Carolina, I spoke to Jim Merrill, a state representative who directs Trump’s campaign in the state. “We have events that tens of thousands of people come to, and we gather all their information—emails, contacts, data,” Merrill told me. “What do you think is more effective: bringing in 10 people from another state to bang on 50 doors? Or getting 10,000 people in a room, all of whom have taken the time to sign up online, travel to your venue, and listen for two hours? Who exactly is more motivated?” The Trump campaign, Merrill said, is “an event-driven campaign, and proud of it.”
The other candidates have complicated rationales involving winning certain states and losing others. Trump’s strategy is comparatively simple: to win and keep winning.
In Iowa, Trump believes he’s stifled Cruz’s hopes with a double-barrelled attack, accusing him of not being eligible by virtue of his Canadian birth, and of being in bed with Wall Street because he failed to properly disclose two loans from Goldman Sachs. In Clinton, Trump was curious about which of these attacks had resonated more broadly. He’d read a poll, he said, that found more Republican caucus-goers responded to the Wall Street issue than the birthplace one, but he didn’t believe it.
Trump decided to survey the audience. “Let me ask you something. Which is a bigger problem, the Wall Street or the anchor baby?” he asked. “Just out of curiosity. Ready? Which is a bigger problem? Wall Street?” A solid ovation ensued. “Canada?” Loud, vociferous whoops and cheers. Trump’s instinct was validated. “I’m telling you, the poll has it wrong!” he said. “And you want Trump anyway, so what the hell.”
If Trump wins Iowa, it’s hard to imagine he doesn’t proceed to win New Hampshire, where he currently leads by 20 points. Then perhaps the establishment will try to rally around the topmost of its palatable options—Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie. But the next contest is South Carolina, where Republican primary voters love the Tea Party and don’t much care for immigrants and Muslims. Then come the Nevada caucuses, and then we are on to the deep South for the so-called SEC primary in March.
Where, exactly, is Trump going to be beat?
If Trump weren’t running, Shane Casey doubted he’d make the effort to go to his local caucus, something he’d never done before. A 42-year-old forklift operator in a suede jacket, Casey had to stop working when papilloma blurred his vision. He recently had surgery—a bright-pink scar near his right eyebrow attested to it—and was cleared to work again, but the plant closed down while he was gone. “So I’ve got to look for a new job,” Casey told me. His sweatshirt said, “This is what the greatest grandpa looks like.”
Casey agreed with everything he’d just heard Trump say, though he found him “a little scripted.” He wanted a wall on the border; he believed Trump when he said he was a Christian. “Nobody can buy him, nobody owns him. I like that,” Casey said.