Q: What’s it like to be a young Catholic millennial voter at the Iowa Caucus?
A: Lonely and uneasy. And that’s a problem.
A group of Benedictine College students went to Iowa for the Caucuses as part of a political science/polling project which isn’t completed yet. But what they did bring back was a valuable view from the rising generation of Catholic on the state of play in the political parties. They said they were the only Catholic millennials there, and after seeing what they say, they think they know why.
Cruz: Rehearsed Enthusiasm
Cruz, a student told me, was very smart and very polished — but the students felt uncomfortable from the first. Millennials value authenticity. They didn’t see it in Cruz.
“We felt like we were in a hardcore-Protestant middle-class white Texas suburb. He spoke like a televangelist, but very scripted. He was abrasive and had an edge I didn’t like. His audience was 80% white baby boomers, with one group of Asians there who kind of kept close to each other. Looking around, I felt like ‘If these people find out I’m a Catholic, they won’t like me.’”
A student told me she went in not liking Cruz, but without having had much exposure to him. She figured seeing him in person was bound to make him rise in her estimation. It didn’t.
“I left feeling worse about him than when I went in. He was very harsh. He said the kind of things Trump says, but it sounds worse coming from him somehow. His wife came on and talked. I liked her. Everyone wants to vote for her, not him. Then they brought their daughters on stage. They were 7 and 5 and did not want to be there. I don’t like it when politicians use their families as a prop.”
Marco Rubio was probably the group’s favorite going in. But they said hearing him speak changed that.
“I didn’t really have much of an opinion going in,” said one student, “but as he spoke my positive opinion of him kept rising. He was likeable, authentic and seemed to know how to get things done. But then, toward the end, my opinion totally changed. He started yelling. He seemed really angry. He was explaining how he would put terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, without a lawyer, without a process, just put them there, and do whatever was necessary to get every piece of information from them.”
The other students noticed the same thing. The presentation sparked a conversation in the group about torture. In the end the group decided that Rubio’s position — and his passion —seemed dangerous to them.
“It was really scary,” one said. “He seemed so angry and violent. It was a total change from earlier in his speech. And the crowd changed, too. There was all this positive energy at first, and that was gone at the end. It was eerie.”
The same student told me Bernie Sanders’ event was different from all the others. There were actors and entertainers who introduced him — “but they didn’t seem to know much about him.”
One big difference between Bernie and the others was scary: “The Republicans tell you what they want to do, and then explain how they would do it. Not Bernie. He would tell you all the things he wanted to do, but he left out the ‘how’ part.” But she said Cruz and Rubio fell into the same trap. Their first item of business would be to rescind all of Obama’s “overreaching” executive orders; but their next order of business, it seemed, would be to issue executive orders of their own.
Bernie’s audience was odd, the students said. One student from the East Coast said, “They didn’t look like Iowans. If you’ve been to Maine, they’re all lumberjacks. In Vermont, they’re all the children of hippies — mixed with hillbillies. They’re all artists. They’re all in favor of free weed. That’s what this audience looked like. They all seemed like they were flown in from Vermont.”
The students who went to Hillary’s rally said the crowd was much more racially diverse, with triple the number of minority voters as any of the others. One student told me she didn’t go to Hillary’s rally because Hillary is an hour late to everything.
True to form, she was an hour late to the Iowa rally, too. But a student said Hillary’s was much more energetic and lively than the Republican rallies. But he added, “People went to the rally to see Bill, a former president. People left while Hillary was still talking.” The students told me voters left Bernie’s rally early also … but no one left the Republican rallies early.
Hillary “had a lot of great starter ideas,” said a student, “but she didn’t finish them … leaving it to voters to assume she had details”
The students agreed that Hillary seemed to be the most virulently pro-abortion of the candidates. “Sanders supports abortion, but he is quiet about it. Hillary is forceful, unapologetic and mean. She personally attacks people who disagree with her about it.”
One student said, “Sitting there watching this woman talking about child abuse and then going directly to promoting abortion made my stomach turn, physically.” He added that Chelsea was pregnant, and Hillary beamed with pride talking about “her new grandchild.” “So privileged people are babies and expendable people are fetuses you can kill?” he said.
That’s definitely scary.
And what about Trump?
Trump was nowhere to be seen. “All of his events were far away and hard to get to,” a student told me.
Which is odd: Iowa is all about being there for the people at the caucus. It’s almost as if one of the dominant front-runners in the primary race isn’t really campaigning for the people of his party, but for a national TV audience far away.
And that’s scariest of all.