DES MOINES — All Brian Fisher wants is to make it through Season 2 of HBO’s “Westworld.”
Fisher, 65, retired from Silicon Valley to Alicante, Spain, where he imagined he’d spend his time catching up on television and enjoying the beach. But now, he jokes, he can’t seem to do either — and for that, he blames President Trump.
“You think, ‘Well, I’ll have my coffee and see what happened overnight in the States,’ ” he said, before describing a morning ritual that includes copious cable news and scrolling through the news alerts on his phone. “I can barely find time to go out to the beach. I live on the beach in Spain — that’s the whole point — but by the time I finish the news, it’s already getting dark.”
Fisher is not alone. Mary Ingham, 52, described a similarly disrupted television viewing routine, spurred on by the negative impact she fears the president is having on her 7-year-old niece. “I used to go home at the end of the day and watch ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ ” Ingham said. “Now I go home and watch MSNBC. Then when I wake up, well, my TV is already tuned to it.”
Interviews with more than a dozen voters, at the Iowa State Fair here and elsewhere, reveal a Democratic electorate wearied by Trump’s near-constant stream of incendiary behavior and racially tinged — and at times overtly racist — invective.
Democratic hopefuls are making a pitch seemingly geared directly at these voters, promising to offset their anxieties and concerns with a return to normalcy via a president who is everything they believe Trump is not — measured, predictable, responsible. Or, at its most reductive, they’re offering an unofficial pledge to Make America Boring Again.
Former vice president Joe Biden casts Trump as a historical anomaly — “an aberrant moment in time” — and argues for taking the country back to when politics was a little less combustible and government a bit more basic.
Another Democratic candidate, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, more overtly captured the sentiment in a tweet that went viral, racking up more than 37,000 retweets as he spoke to those voters’ most primal desire.
“If you elect me president, I promise you won’t have to think about me for 2 weeks at a time,” Bennet wrote earlier this month. “I’ll do my job watching out for North Korea and ending this trade war. So you can go raise your kids and live your lives.”
In an interview, Bennet said his tweet reflected a sentiment he has been hearing from voters, but rejected the notion that he’s lobbying to be the nation’s next mundane commander-in-chief. “No! No! No!” he said. “I don’t want a boring president either, but I’d like to have a president who is competent again to do the job.”
His shorthand, he added, “literally would fit on a bumper sticker: The opposite of Trump.”
A version of Bennet’s pitch is being echoed by a range of candidates. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), offered a similar appeal in late June. “I’m not going around doing crazy things just looking for a viral moment,” Moulton said. “The case I’m making to the American people is that I’m not a crazy leader. I’m someone that you can trust, and you’re not going to agree with me on everything.”
Sen. Kamala D. Harrisof California, another Democratic presidential candidate, told reporters recently that, “People are just tired of what we’ve been seeing.”
David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, noted that voters often choose presidents who represent the opposite of their immediate predecessor. In a tweet last month, after Trump attacked the district of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) as a “rat and rodent infested mess,” Axelrod wrote that if Trump loses in 2020, his inflammatory attacks and screeds will be to blame.
“Every, single day, he subjects the country he was elected to lead to a stream of ugly, divisive bombast,” Axelrod wrote. “It’s exhausting. It’s destructive. It’s unworthy of a POTUS. And it would only get worse. Four more years? Of THIS?”
In an interview, Axelrod said he believes if Democrats beat Trump, it will not be on policy matters but as a result of sheer exhaustion with living under his frenetic rule. “I do think long-term the convulsive nature of his leadership is going to be the issue of 2020 — not any particular issue but whether America can live like this for another four years, buffeted between his provocations and his occasional moments of presidential ministering to the country,” Axelrod said.
Indeed, several Democratic voters interviewed in Havre de Grace, Md., offered the same lament. “I want a president who’s not in your face and without all the drama,” said Lynsey Warfield, 38.
And from Joe Rodman, 24, who lives in Delaware: “I’m feeling absolutely exhausted by Trump.”
He added he plans to vote for someone who “can reduce the anxiety in the country,” and hoped the next president would be a leader in the model of Franklin D. Roosevelt. “We need someone who can act responsibly and like an adult,” Rodman said.
In some ways, offering a complete counter to Trump is a savvier strategy for Democrats than trying to beat the president at his own game, said Matthew Dowd, a former senior adviser to President George W. Bush and chief political analyst for ABC News.
“You’re never going to be able to compete with Trump on chaos. You can’t out-chaos the chaos candidate,”Dowd said.
“They have to be very careful of not just creating their own version of a reality TV show, because if you’re going to pick a reality TV star, there’s no Democrat who can compete.”
The challenge for Democrats is to offer the promise of a steady hand while simultaneously casting themselves as compelling and colorful — albeit not as freewheeling and uncontrollable as Trump.
“There’s a lot of diagnosis that Trump is exhausting the country, but you have to be careful what cure you’re prescribing to that, and the cure is not for a Democratic candidate to be as dull as dishwater or to be a shrinking violet,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster.
The more compelling message against Trump, Garin said, “is that because of the discombobulation that attaches to him, he doesn’t get things done, that he creates chaos instead of solutions, and that people do want a president who will actually solve problems.”
To that end, the Democratic National Committee has begun pushing a theme of Trump’s “broken promises.” Before the primary debates in Detroit last month, for instance, Democrats highlighted the closure of a Michigan General Motors plant as an example of Trump’s “broken promises.” Ohio Democrats, meanwhile, held a rally in Youngstown — the site of another closed GM facility — with the town’s mayor to contrast what they said was the gap between Trump’s words and actions.
“People are exhausted by the president’s divisiveness, they’re exhausted by his broken promises,” said DNC Chair Tom Perez, describing what he has heard from voters as he has traveled the country.
And the message, he said, is urgent. “If you’re suggesting that having a president who is going to fight for your health care is boring, I don’t think that’s boring for a family of a diabetic,” Perez said.
In polls, Americans repeatedly express some concerns with Trump’s behavior and a desire for a more even-keeled chief executive. About two-thirds of adults said Trump has acted unpresidential since taking office, according to a July Washington Post-ABC News poll, including a near-unanimous 93 percent of Democrats. And in a June Fox News poll of registered voters who plan to vote in a Democratic primary or caucus, 72 percent said voting for a candidate who will provide steady, reliable leadership will be more importantthan voting for a candidate with a bold, new agenda.
Muriel Jarvis, 69, a retired first-grade teacher from Iowa City, fretted that she spends way too much of her time focused on the presidency. “I’m tired of being on this Trump-coaster, and every day there is a new low,” she said. “I am looking forward to this election bringing some normalcy back to the country.”
As for Fisher, who has been stuck on the first season of “Westworld,” he’s not sure when he’ll make it through the entire HBO series.
Asked when he thinks he’ll finally have time to finish the show, he laughed, then paused, then pondered the quandary.
“Trump out of office, I guess,” he said. “Then I can relax.”
Scott Clement, Laura Hughes and Matt Viser contributed to this report.