The guy playing guitar and harmonica near the entrance to the final Republican debate in Iowa is wearing a sport coat and slacks. At Republican events, even troubadours wear business casual. Is he playing Dylan or Springsteen? We’re walking too fast, and he’s playing too softly, to tell.
It is fun to be at one of these quadrennial celebrations of democracy. We’ve scavenged our tickets from a friend who is a Rubio supporter. So, we’re in what is clearly the Marco section, although the guy sitting next to us tells us that he’s a personal friend of Rick Santorum, and he applauds madly when Santorum makes a point in the undercard debate.
We’re not Iowans, but we feel some pressure to be Iowa nice, so we clap when he does. The family behind us are clearly Iowa political junkies, living for the attention the state receives during election years. The morning after the caucuses must be a tremendous letdown for them, not unlike what the grandkids feel after all the presents are opened on Christmas morning.
Frank Luntz, the focus group guy, walks by. He’s wearing a sport coat and tennis shoes. People stop him for selfies. My gosh, you may be spending too much time thinking about politics if Frank Luntz is your idea of a celebrity. Although I did take his picture and post it on social media.
We had a brush with celebrity on the way to the debate, when the Bernie Sanders bus passed us on interstate 80 west of Des Moines. Julie’s driving 80, but we still can’t get close enough to snap a picture of Bernie’s speeding red billboard. If you want to feel the Bern on I-80, you’d better act fast.
The announcer tells us to get in our seats a full half hour before the second debate starts. That seems a bit excessive to me. This is not a Republican thing. This is an Iowa thing.They have the lowest speed limits in the country. Somebody should tell Bernie.
Greg Gutfeld sits in front of us! He’s accompanied by two young women, also wearing Fox News Staff name tags. Gutfeld, a Fox News personality and a humorist, is a very small man. But not as small as the women in his retinue. It’s a posse in miniature. People take pictures with him as well. I follow him on Twitter, and can now watch him type tweets seconds before they appear on my screen. The perfect 21st century moment, where the experience only becomes real when it’s electronic.
Finally, the debate. I’m already tired of sitting, since we had to sit down last month sometime. Cruz starts with a joke, a parody of Trump. The crowd reacts well to the joke, although Cruz’s delivery is awkward. The crowd was less pleased when Cruz tangles with Chris Wallace. Fox News is popular in Iowa, evidenced by the fact that one of the biggest rounds of applause all night was for Megyn Kelly. That would worry me, if I were in the Trump camp.
Cruz goes on to complain about ad hominem attacks. I’m as sensitive as the next guy about people dissing the middle of the country by assuming we don’t understand words or ideas, but I have to wonder how many times the phrase ad hominem is used at the parts desk of John Deere stores in Iowa. Even though my combine has committed more than a few ad hominem attacks against me.
Lots of argument about immigration, and I thought it the only section of the debate where both Cruz and Rubio were on the defensive. It was an impressive back and forth, though, with two articulate politicians at the top of their game. Articulate and Republican are two words not often in the same zip code, which leads me to the Jeb! problem. I mean, the problem for Jeb. He’s running in the wrong year! Imagine if he were debating Bob Dole, John McCain, or Mitt Romney. He’s a competent debater in any other year. This year, he lacks the charisma of a reality TV star, the forensics ability of the college champion debater Ted Cruz, or the natural fluency possessed by Rubio. Not that any of this is essential to either winning an election or governing the country, but it matters in a debate.
The best line of the debate? Well, it’s not one mentioned in any of the debate wrap ups I’ve seen, it didn’t make any new clips, and it was said by a candidate that nobody expects to win, but Rand Paul had his moments in the debate, the best when he reminded us that liberty requires virtue. I’m sure Paul uses the line in every stump speech, but there is a lot packed into that short phrase. If the general election is a showdown between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, we can be sure that neither Republican or Democrat voters are much enamored of liberty or concerned about virtue, but it is nice that at least one politician can comfortably talk about the relationship between the two.
Finally, I was disappointed throughout the debate that there is very little talk about our economic future. Some questions about government spending, which the candidates duck, some more successfully than others. A bit on ethanol, which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ted Cruz has no idea what the ethanol blend wall is. Farmers are right to be concerned about the fate of the renewable fuel standard, but I’m not sure that it’s the most important issue this election cycle to those of us in agriculture.
Agri-Pulse recently surveyed farmers about the presidential election, and according to their poll of 750 farmers, Donald Trump is leading with support from 40 percent of farmers who identify as Republican. He’s leading among the general electorate as well. Bernie Sanders still trails Hillary Clinton, but is polling surprisingly well among Democratic voters.
If those two are the major party candidates in November, it will be the most protectionist national race since Smoot and Hawley inadvertently kicked off the Great Depression with their infamous tariffs. Many of Bernie’s fondest fantasies will be strangled in a non-socialist, maybe even Republican Congress. Many of Trump’s blustering bluffs will be called by Congress or reality. But the tradition over the past few generations has been for Congress to posture on trade while the President leads. If the President hates trade, then Congress may cede to him what he desires. That will be a disaster of historic proportions for American agriculture, and the worldwide economy as well.
About the author: Blake Hurst is a third-generation farmer and president of the Missouri Farm Bureau board of directors.