USU Professor Travels To Iowa Caucuses For Book Research, Part One

Jan 31, 2020

Credit Jason Gilmore

Utah State University assistant professor Jason Gilmore is writing a book on President Donald Trump’s communication style and traveled to Iowa this week to attend some rallies before the state’s caucuses on Monday. 

UPR’s Matilyn Mortensen caught up with Gilmore on Thursday evening after he and his co-author attended at Trump Rally. 

Matilyn Mortensen: Jason, thanks so much for letting me visit with you tonight. Can you tell me about where you've been this evening?

Jason Gilmore: So we flew into Des Moines, Iowa. We will be here for a few days visiting the lead up to the Iowa caucuses. And this evening we attended a Trump rally.

MM: So tell me a little bit about the purpose of the President's visit here today. As a sitting president, it isn't necessarily necessary that he's in Iowa right now.

JG: You know, there are a number of different arguments for why Trump went to Iowa. It's probably because the democrats are taking a lot of attention, a lot of national media attention, and you know, Trump definitely likes attention. But he also wanted to kind of come, and it seems to me, that he wanted to kind of throw a wrench into the workings of the Democratic caucuses here. He’s doing another rally on the night of the last debate here in Iowa. So kind of, it's been a pattern where he's just kind of start to insert himself in important moments during the Democratic primaries.

MM: And what was the energy like at this event tonight? And did impeachment have any impact on the conversations or kind of how people were filling in the room?

JG: It was definitely interesting. We got there early in the day because we went to pick up our press badges. There were definitely a lot of people outside. They were, you know, selling all kinds of Trump gear and t-shirts, flags and all kinds of different things. So there was definitely energy outside leading up to the event. 

During the event, it was a packed house. They had to turn away, I think somewhere around 500 to 800 people, so it was definitely, you know, brought out a good amount of people. The venue fit maybe 7,000 people. So the energy is definitely lively, as Trump events tend to be. That said, you know, I've watched a lot of these and this one kind of lacked some of the energy that I've seen in other ones.

MM: And then, any mention of impeachment? Or was impeachment even apart of the conversation tonight or not so much?

JG: And that was kind of the thing, right? So usually Trump uses these rallies to come out and air his grievances and get things off of his chest. And it seems like he had already done that with previous rallies when it comes to impeachment. Even though for most of us who are watching impeachment, this is really coming to a head right now, it almost seems like Donald Trump's moved on from it. Perhaps because he knows, or is counting on the fact, that the Republicans will likely move quickly to dismiss the impeachment trial. But he definitely had an air of just, it's not bothering me and kind of moving on.

MM: I know you're working on a book right now. So tell me about your experience this evening in the context of the research and the things that you've been watching and listening to.

JG: Yeah, so I'm writing a book on Donald Trump's communication strategies-- both in the 2016 election in the 2020 election. And so I really wanted to be at this event because I wanted to see, you know, what this phenomenon looked like in person and how people respond to the way he communicates. So it definitely informed the kind of the feeling of what it's like to be at a Trump event. If you're a huge supporter of his, you know, it's an amazing event. For us, it got a little old after a little while, because, you know, he just kind of riffs and rehashes different points. 

And so, in regards to the book, we kind of confirmed a lot of stuff. So I was there with my co-author. We spent a lot of the night just kind of looking over at each other and at certain points in time when Trump would say something.

We have the opportunity to talk to one of the campaign's communication people previous to his speech, and she basically confirmed what we've been saying all along. Donald Trump is the person who runs his communication campaign and his campaign staff basically just go with what he says. Sometimes they've got to deal with the fallout from certain controversial things that he says, but he's in charge. And they're just trying to amp up and use the things he says in kind of off the cuff moments for effective communication on the campaign trail, and as President. So it confirmed a lot of things that we had already understood. 

I'm still processing it. I'm not sure anything new. But we've read all of his MAGA rallies and all of his speeches. So this just fits a pattern that we've seen over time.

MM: Well, thank you so much for your time, Jason, and we're looking forward to visiting with you after you've been able to go to some of the other events in Iowa this weekend.

JG: Yeah, it should be great. Thanks for having me.

MM: You're welcome. We appreciate your time.