DES MOINES — By the time Donald Trump arrived at Hoyt Sherman auditorium here Tuesday night, he was running more than an hour behind schedule. “This has been a wild day,” he exclaimed. It would only get more so.
By then, the audience had already gotten a flavor of things to come. There was the Pledge of Allegiance recited by Cub Scouts; the national anthem sung by Taylor Wiebers, the reigning Miss Iowa; the introduction of an Auschwitz survivor (to highlight Trump’s support for Israel); and a testimonial from David McNeer, an Iowa business owner to whom Trump unexpectedly offered an economic lifeline some years ago.
There was also a pep talk from 10-year-old Shay Doyle, who has some of the Trump moxie and who asked the crowd to vote for Trump because Shay is still too young to do so himself. And there was a long, time-killing ad-libbed talk by Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler. Scheffler was forced into the breach because, a Trump adviser said, the candidate’s plane had been forced to circle the airport a few times before landing.
It was the second stop for Trump as a declared candidate, an exclamation point to his morning speech at Trump Tower in New York. As the final introductions were made, Trump stood in the lobby at the back of the hall, smiling at the accolades being heaped on him and flanked by security and onlookers. And then the show began. Trump made a grand entrance down the aisle, mobbed by people, and climbed onto the stage.
Trump has instantly become the poster boy for a Republican nominating contest that is spinning in all directions, with a field numbering 12 and with more in the wings waiting to enter. He is the brash, flamboyant, unwelcome guest who will give party leaders heartburn and whose arrival could disrupt the coming debates if he joins more serious candidates onstage.
After Trump departed and the crowd filed out, Scheffler offered a brief appraisal of Trump’s candidacy. He said the candidate had put together a good team of leaders in Iowa, led by Chuck Laudner, who was a mainstay in the caucus-winning operation of former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania four years ago.
“I wouldn’t underestimate him at all,” Scheffler said.
Trump placards lined the walkway up the hill from the street to the steps of the auditorium and also along the edge of the parking lot. When a candidate declares, “I am really rich,” as Trump did in announcing his candidacy Tuesday morning, it’s clear that money will be no object. The campaign paraphernalia — signs, buttons, free T-shirts — were evidence of that.
Two tables of volunteers gathered e-mail addresses from the Iowans who had come to hear the newest candidate for the Republican nomination. Inside, more volunteers acted as greeters and guides, one wearing a badge that said “Trump Hostess.”
The event drew a cross section of Iowans, the curious and the committed, gawkers and citizens, intent on doing their due diligence, as is so common in this state. Many were like Adam Kaduce, who is in real estate and who said he had come out of a sense of responsibility to vet the candidates. He had heard through a friend in politics that Trump would be in town. “In Iowa, everybody’s got a friend in politics,” he said.
A few were already signed on, as was a woman who rushed by with a quick comment without stopping to give her name. “He’s everything I’m looking for in the next president,” she said.
Don and Kathy Watson had driven up from Ottumwa to get a closer look at the candidate. “Why not?” Kathy Watson said. “He’s as good as anybody. . . . He’s not afraid. He’s not a politician.”
Like many, they are still shopping, though they’ve ruled out Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who announced his candidacy Monday and was in Iowa on Wednesday. “Dump him. We’ve had too many Bushes,” she said.
Were they concerned by criticism of Trump as being more a showman and not presidential? “What do we have now?” Don Watson said. “A guy who’s not fit to be president.”
John Revak, who is in the lumber business, said he was drawn to Trump’s business experience. “He presents himself as a negotiator — and obviously he’s been successful at it — so those are big assets,” Revak said. “I think he understands how the economy works. A lot of them who are running are too much government wonky.”
Shane Gray, who owns a construction company and was there with his wife, Melissa, said he, too, was drawn to Trump because of his business acumen. Was he put off by Trump’s style?
“Some of his words are a little bit brash, a little bit rough,” Gray said. “He’s definitely not the most well-spoken candidate there is. But I do like how he’s pretty straightforward about it. He just could be a lot more delicate.”
There was nothing delicate about Trump’s performance in Iowa. He reprised many of the lines from his announcement speech, particularly his attack on illegal immigrants as “killers, drug dealers, rapists.” He allowed that some are probably “good people.”
He berated President Obama and belittled his own critics as “stupid” and misguided. He attacked other candidates, criticizing Bush for his open-collar look at the Monday announcement in Miami. “He can’t even put on a tie and jacket?” Trump asked with mock indignation. “He’s running for president. . . . I thought it was ridiculous.”
He said his strategy for taking on Islamic State terrorists would be to blow up the oil fields they control. “We should go blast the hell out of that oil,” he said, bringing many in the crowd to their feet cheering.
He took questions from the audience. The first came from someone who asked him where he stood on abortion. “I’m pro-life,” he said.
And then he went on to note that he is Presbyterian. “Nobody thinks of me as the ultimate WASP, but I am,” he said.
He was asked about the scandal at the Veterans Health Administration, about the biggest misconceptions or lies told about him.
Asked whether student loan debt was a bubble waiting to burst, Trump said, “The country is a big fat bubble run by incompetent people, and it’s ready to burst.”
The last question was about Hillary Rodham Clinton. “How do you beat Hillary?” the questioner asked. Trump called other Republicans gutless and, in typical fashion, said there was only one path for the party. “There’s nobody who’s going to beat her but Donald Trump,” he said.
Republican leaders hoped that this day would never come or that Trump would flirt with running but never do so. Now, he is a candidate and a problem they can’t easily ignore.