Meet CYCLONE. We'll call him that because he would not tell me his name. He wore a white shirt with faded red and yellow stripes and a bright Iowa State-colored tie. His hair was spiked up with hair gel, and he reeked of booze.
And he was one of the main attractions at the biggest political and athletic event in the state of Iowa this week: a college football tailgate with Donald Trump. Once CYCLONE was done drunkenly harassing a fellow Iowa State fan for "not having a job," I asked him for an interview.
CYCLONE: "You're a Democrat. I can tell."
ME: "How can you tell?"
CYCLONE: "Because you're wearing a plaid shirt. You're a Democrat, aren't you?"
CYCLONE: "Yeah, go back to Univision!"
"I like him," I joked.
"I don't," CYCLONE's father replied.
Iowa and Iowa State fans don't get along when this week comes around. But for the other 51 weeks, these are neighbors, co-workers and friends, who often find common ground on politics, even when they can't on football. And the Trump Tailgate did manage to bring some rivals together for the common causes of Trump, for or against.
Meet HAWKEYE. He was more amicable than CYCLONE, but under the advice of his less-drunk friends, he would likewise not tell me his name. He wore an Iowa polo and a signature Trump "Make America Great Again" hat, with a Coors Light in hand. I asked him why he supported Trump, and he gave the standard response: Trump's not politically correct, he's a good businessman, he's not afraid of anyone, etc.
Then he leaned in and said, "To be honest, man, we're just here to get fucked up."
Iowa won, BTW
Hawkeyes' emotional victory
The Hawkeyes grind out a win over their in-state rivals to close the toughest of weeks.
Iowa won, BTW
Getting fucked up is really the whole point of football if you're an Iowa or Iowa State fan. The football isn't fun, but the drinking is. And heated arguing is what a political event is supposed to be about.
Iowans, living in a tone-setting battleground state, are used to having bits of everyday life interjected with politics. Candidates go to the state fair and admire the butter cow. They go to that one restaurant in town, the one people don't really go to, the one that's still a staple because it was 50 years ago. These are safe and boring photo ops.
A Trump Tailgate is neither of those things. It pits two opinionated groups against each other, plus drinking for hours on end. There were no promotional photos, no meet-and-greets with fans too inebriated to participate.
Sadly, this was not a tailgate just for Trump. It was run by the Republican Party of Story County, but there was only one reason anyone was there.
"Tell that scrub to get to the side. We've got Trump coming!" said one guy when Wisconsin governor Scott Walker appeared. Another yelled at the balding candidate about Rogaine. One woman, a self-described Republican, had no idea who Walker was, and the only semi-excited person was a drunk man who told his daughter to shake "Mike Walker's" hand.
If there's anyone who had to really hate this tailgate (booze wasn't provided by the GOP, of course, so it's only a tailgate because of its surroundings), it was the campaign workers. They're unpaid, mostly college students, and live in constant fear that whatever they say will ruin their candidate's campaign.
Like the two guys in Jeb! shirts. A curious Hawkeye fan made the mistake of asking about Bush, and after listening for a good five minutes, the fan thought he'd figured it out.
"So he's the anti-Trump," he said.
"NOOOOOOOOOO," the campaigners screamed in horror.
There were the Mike Huckabros. They had their hair combed nicely, wore button-downs and looked terrified of what they were witnessing. They were from Georgia, the only information they were willing to share.
There was a small, vocal group of protestors, led mostly by students against Trump. The ever-drunker crowd mocked them more and more. A middle-aged man in a Cyclones shirt to a protestor in non-team clothing:
"You don't support a candidate. You support an idea. An idea can't run. How about Deez Nuts? He comes from Iowa."
"Yeah, that's great," the protestor replied.
Said student protestor Michelle Ramos, "I have to work Saturdays. I'm not a big tailgater. I love my team. Go State or whatever, but I have to work to be able to go to school here."
The drunk crowd showed up later, but at the beginning, there was actually a number of Trump supporters milling about — "all dudes," much to one reporter's chagrin — and defending their renegade leader. Tyler Steiner and Jake Rudeen, both ISU students, wore blue Trump shirts.
"I'm a big fan of his one-liners," Steiner said.
Joining Steiner and Rudeen was their roommate, Ray Washington. But he wasn't there to support anybody.
"I know Trump's gonna have fun," he said.
About 45 minutes before Trump's scheduled arrival, the crowd had multiplied to quadruple digits. We stood around the Field of Dreams-inspired backdrop for two hours, where increasingly inebriated fans exchanged ideas.
- "I love to look at (FOX's Megyn Kelly), but now I see her true inner side."
- "I don't (support Trump) at all. I just like trolling people. I'm drunk. I love trolling people."
- "I won't vote for him, but I'm gonna shake his hand so I might be on his show some day. What's his show called?"
- One drunk fan who nearly fell into Walker and had a "Don't Make A (Democrat Donkey) Out Of Yourself" shirt on.
- This shirt:
The mob was more akin to a group of fans ready to rush the field after a big win than it was to any political setting. Drunk fans stumbled over each other, moving around in hope of getting in front of the one small audio speaker. I asked one veteran political reporter from Washington, DC., whether she had ever seen a rally with supporters this drunk.
"Not this early," she said.
Fans broke out into cheers and sat on shoulders and truck beds, hoping to spot the hero of the hour. Angst set in: was The Donald really going to show? An event organizer told the crowd that it would be half-an-hour to four hours, since a crowd this big was now a security threat. Some dispersed.
Trump wasn't going to show up to his own tailgate.
But as I came back around the bend, I was nearly run over by a stampede of cheering fans and media members. There he was, emerging from the stadium, wearing a tieless suit and a camo "Make America Great Again" hat. Despite being mobbed for autographs and handshakes, he marched through the Jack Trice Stadium parking lots.
The speech lasted less than a minute. It was the most vanilla of any candidate's. It touched on no issues, and he asked no questions, other than whom everyone was cheering for. It was a christening, not a stump speech.
Once he stepped down from his throne, he beelined for a waiting SUV.
"I touched him!" yelled one girl, telling anyone who would listen. Trump actually showed up. To a tailgate basically in his honor. At the Iowa-Iowa State game. To cheer with a bunch of drunk fans.
No matter our politics, there's one thing we can all agree on: this sure as hell has never happened before.