COUNCIL BLUFFS, IA – It’s mid-morning in Iowa. The cold air passes through the cavernous Mid-America Center, but the electricity of the tightly packed attendees insulates them against the cruel Midwestern weather. We’ve come to expect a kind of fervor and enthusiasm at Trump’s rallies, and this one is no different.
Donald Trump hasn’t arrived yet, but his supporters are excited, like dogs about to be fed. They’ve waited outside in the snow for three, four hours just to get a chance to see the billionaire developer tell it how it is.
Seeing as I have some time before Trump takes the stage, I decide to get a feel on the ground. Yes, Trump supporters are obviously nearly-identical to Bernie Sanders supporters in that they’re white, angry, and full of hate and cornmeal, but a journalist’s job is to get the deeper story and find the little differences that paint the larger picture.
I leave the press area to mingle about the crowd. Out on the floor, I approach a middle-aged woman wearing a shirt emblazoned with the American flag and one of the now-iconic “Make America Great Again” ballcaps. She’s a tad heavy and has fire in her eyes.
“Ma’am, do you think Donald has enough ‘yuge’ LOLs in the bank to make it to the Dixie primaries?” I ask.
“He’s going to get the Chinese and Mexicans in a room and make them pay for what they’ve done. He’s going to make all of this right,” she replies.
“I see. And just how viral are these hats? Do your friends wear them, and do you consider yourself a Snapchat Mom or a Meerkat Missus?”
“He is finally gonna stand up to Islam,” she says assuredly.
Sensing this is fruitless, I find another voter to talk to. This time, it’s a young man in a smart polo shirt and casual chinos.
“Hiya, Carl Diggler with Cafe. Do you think that The Donald can meme it with the best of them?” I ask.
“They’re telling us in Hollywood that it’s normal for certain groups to mix, and it doesn’t make me racist to say that,” he tells me.
Before I can get any further, I hear a roar of applause. Trump has taken the stage.
“How are we, Council Bluffs? This is a really wonderful town, look at all these great people out here who aren’t afraid to make America great!” I feel dizzy as the cheering booms. I should have brought ear plugs!
I take out my notepad, ready to chronicle one of the “yuge” moments Trump rallies are famous for. Burly security guards prowl up and down the rows. Maybe I’ll get to see a protester get the ol’ heave-ho!
I wave back at my colleagues stuck up in the press box. This veteran journalist is getting a front row seat to the action.
“But I gotta say — and people aren’t going to be happy I did this — but I have to say it,” Trump continues. “There’s someone in this audience who doesn’t want to see us win, and that’s a shame.” The crowd is booing, and I feel a lump in my throat and a heaviness in my feet.
“Carl Diggler is here. Where is he? Right there.” He points right at me. “Carl, all the way back in August last year, you said I had a ‘viral fail.’”
I look around, shocked, as the feverish crowd boos me. Getting louder, Trump goes on: “You called me, and this is true, the ‘loser of the week.’ Now, what the hell is that? Do all you guys in the media have the same playbook you try to go after me with?”
My shirt is instantly soaked in sweat. I feel a sinking in my stomach and a lightness in my head. I want to run back to the press area, but it’s so far away. Oh my god. It’s happening. All those dreams were predicting this. I knew it.
“Carl, why don’t you want to make America great? I never read ‘Thinkocracy’ — which, I must say, was a huge failure of a book, just terrible — but I can’t imagine you were this much of a hack back then.”
Everyone is looking at me and booing, but their figures bend and blur as my eyes fill with water. This intensifies their boos. On all sides are angry, slobbering flyover country hicks clamoring for the blood of me, a respected journalist and Beltway insider.
Why can’t I wake up from this? Why do I deserve this? My mouth begins to move before my mind can plan.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to — oh my god I’m so sorry,” I cry, cleverly playing the sympathy card.
“What?” Trump shouts.
The boos have subsided but it could just be because I only hear ringing in my ears.
“I’m sorry I was against you, please don’t, not like this. I wasn’t fair. I had it out for you. I want to make America great again,” I yelp, cleverly.
There’s a smattering of applause. I’m soaked in tears and sweat, still. Everyone is staring me down.
“I’ll give them up! I’ll tell you everything you need to know. Chris Cillizza, Ron Fournier, Michael Smerconish? I’ll tell you everything you want to know! I know they’re trying to stop you, I’ll help you, I’ll do anything,” I continue. “I’ll name names! I know where they live! What their fears are!”
The booing has completely stopped, but I still feel in danger.
“Make America great again! Jeb Bush is a cuck! Make America great again! Jeb Bush is a cuck!
Make America great again! Jeb Bush is a cuck!” I chant.
Soon, the swaths of angry white Iowans chant with me. It’s deafening. Trump nods in approval. The inside of my pants leg and my armpits are sopping wet with sweat, the cold kind that saturates you. The uncomfortable clinging chilliness reminds you that you’re a coward, as if your own body is punishing you because you just couldn’t resist the fear.
They’re all chanting directly at the stage. Trump is talking, but most words lose their texture when they hit my ear. I push past a group of elderly supporters in the bag, stumbling in a zigzag pattern back towards the press box. I can’t even look at my colleagues. Through tears and mucus I mumble “I’m sorry,” but they don’t even hear me. Just as well.
Then everything goes blurry. Things are speeding up or slowing down, I can’t tell. I feel a stabbing pain, right in my Siamese appendix. It weighs me down and folds me in half as I continue stumbling. I don’t know how I got here but I’m within 20 feet of the other journalists as they make their way onto the bus.
“Please…please…” I call out.
They don’t even turn their heads.
Everything starts to go dark. I feel myself falling onto the pavement, like in one of those dreams where my legs feel like rubber. As my eyes close the last thing I see is New York Times scribe Michael Barbaro walking towards me.
Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years, and is the author of “Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman.” Got a question for the Dig? E-mail him at [email protected] or Tweet to @carl_diggler.