WATERLOO, Iowa — Absent were the usual frenzied fans clamoring to get into a packed event hall. Instead, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s rally on the morning of the Iowa caucus was unusually lackluster, attended by a crowd far less raucous than his usual steadfast supporters. Combined with a cavernous, beige-walled room, the air felt a little dead for his first rally on a milestone day in the 2016 race.
Applause was sporadic, the loudest coming when Trump mentioned getting rid of gun-free zones on military bases, when he told the crowd “Christianity is under siege,” and when he touted his recent endorsement by Arizona’s controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio. A law enforcement official said 1,000 chairs were laid out, of which about 75% appeared full by the time the rally was under way. And while no one could offer an official count, an estimate put the crowd at 700 to 800 people. It was still a sizable group in comparison to what other candidates draw at their rallies, but one that was "low energy," according to NBC News' Kerry Sanders.
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Also to consider, however: The event took place on a Monday morning with lots of fog and some ice on the roads. Relatively low turnout could also be attributed to the rally taking place during the business day.
In terms of substance, Trump stuck to his new condensed stump speech, which clocked in at about 35 minutes from start to finish. The real estate mogul also presented a $100,000 check to charity, this time to Americans For Independent Living, a veterans group from the Waterloo area that modifies homes and helps disabled veterans. Trump's family — daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jared, and wife Melania — also joined him on stage, with Ivanka saying a few words about how warm the reception has been for them in Iowa and how important it is to get out and caucus.
Trump did, in usual fashion, hit GOP presidential rival Ted Cruz hard for his ethanol stance, a position that has plagued the Texas senator in the Hawkeye State for much of the past two months.
"I'm looking at the money put up by Ted Cruz for Ted Cruz it's incredible the people there, it's controlled. And he will destroy your ethanol business 100 percent ... I'm not really blaming him because he's financed by oil people and the oil people don't want ethanol, it's very simple," he said. "Your ethanol business, if Ted Cruz gets in, will be wiped out within six months to a year. It's going to be gone. It's going to be gone. And as you know the ethanol folks like Trump."