March 1, 2024

It’s the latest hot TV genre: a woman in a frigid outpost, bundled in puffy outerwear, trying to uncover truths buried in ice.

In the new season of HBO’s “True Detective,” Jodie Foster is a cop trudging through snow trying to solve a murder in a remote Alaska town, described as “the end of the world.” On FX’s “A Murder at the End of the World,” Emma Corrin is an amateur sleuth trudging through snow trying to solve a murder in an isolated retreat in Iceland.

And now I find myself in puffy outerwear, trudging through snow in glacial Iowa, trying to uncover truths buried in the ice.

I don’t have as much of a mystery to unravel as the TV detectives. The only thing the horde of reporters here is trying to figure out is if Donald Trump will win the caucuses on Monday with a plurality or if he can pull off a majority. No one is expecting a Jimmy Carter/Barack Obama-style upset.

A blizzard on Friday froze the action. Drivers skidded all over Des Moines, with cars abandoned on highways. Candidates canceled events and scrambled to do telephone town halls. CNN’s Jeff Zeleny donned fleece earmuffs for live reports. Journalists planning to arrive this weekend faced canceled flights. With Trump and the others scrapping in-person rallies, reporters were left jaw-jawing with one another in the lobbies of the Hotel Fort Des Moines and the downtown Marriott.

On Friday evening, Trump posted a video, accusingly telling Iowa, “You have the worst weather, I guess, in recorded history.” Maybe he should have gotten here earlier instead of haranguing the judge in his New York fraud trial on Thursday.

Candidates’ surrogates resorted to extreme measures. Kari Lake, stumping for Trump in a yellow sweater — a Hawkeye color for her alma mater — joked that they would use “the ancient strategy” of the telephone to reach voters.

Campaign aides to Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley were desperately calculating if the weather could give them an advantage: Maybe some of Trump’s older voters in rural areas who have to drive a long way to caucus would not show up on Monday, which could be the coldest day in caucus history, with wind chills potentially hitting 40 below.

But the Trump crew here — including Donald Trump Jr. and Jason Miller — roamed around looking sanguine. “We’re confident, not cocky,” Miller told me.

Compared with the poor ground game Trump Sr. had in 2016, when he came in second to “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz, as he called him, MAGA world is a model of organization. And that should frighten Democrats.

“If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that our grass-roots guys had all been media trained,” Miller said. “Some of these people, because they watch everything the president does, they know any question. It doesn’t matter about whether it be the economy, Biden, witch hunt, Austin.” As in Lloyd. And “the president” Miller refers to is Trump.

With a snow day here, I had time to contemplate the real mystery of Iowa: What has happened to America?

In January 2008, the Democratic caucuses offered a thrilling contest. In overwhelmingly white Iowa, Barack Obama showed that Americans could propel a Black candidate into the Oval Office. Race was, remarkably, not a big factor in the contest.

When I saw Obama at his first event in New Hampshire after his Iowa win, I was still stunned at the result. “Wow,” I said to him. “You really did it.”

He looked solemn and a bit blank, recalling the scene in “The Candidate” when Robert Redford, the young, charismatic pol, pulls off an upset over his more seasoned, status quo opponent and murmurs, “What do we do now?”

It felt then as if we were embracing modernity and inclusion, moving away from the image of John Wayne’s America.

How could we have gone from such a hopeful moment to such a discordant one?

Of course, every time there’s a movement, there’s a countermovement, where people feel that their place in the world is threatened and they want to turn back the clock. Trump has played on that resentment, trying to drag us into the past, curtailing women’s rights, inflaming voters to “take back America” and, as he said on Jan. 6, exhorting his base to “fight like hell” or “you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Trump is a master at exploiting voters’ fears. I’m puzzled about why his devoted fans don’t mind his mean streak. He can gleefully, cruelly, brazenly make fun of disabilities in a way that had never been done in politics — President Biden’s stutter, John McCain’s injuries from being tortured, a Times reporter’s disability — and loyal Trump fans laugh. He calls Haley “Birdbrain.” Trump is 77, yet he sees himself as a spring chicken. On Thursday, he put out a video on Truth Social mocking the “White House senior living” center, featuring pictures of the 81-year-old Biden looking helpless and out of it.

Obama’s triumph in Iowa was about having faith in humanity. If Trump wins here, it will be about tearing down faith in humanity.

That it’s happening in a blizzard is fitting. Trump’s whole life has been a snow job.

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