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BONNIE GREER: The key to The White House can be found in Iowa

US president Donald Trump and UK prime minister Theresa May during the state visit to Britain. Photo: Getty - Credit: Getty Images

BONNIE GREER thinks it’s time to talk about corn and to understand its significance in that polyglot known as the United States.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall with US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania at Winfield House. Photo: Chris Jackson/PA Wire – Credit: PA

It is now time to talk about corn.

To not only talk about it, but to understand its significance in that polyglot known as the United States. We are in the run-up to the primary season, and close to the first one, early next year, in Iowa.

Everybody wants to go to Iowa because the people of the state are the first Democrats to vote, the first to let the world know where the party may be heading.

The 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses are scheduled to take place on Monday, February 3, 2020. They award 49 delegates, of which 41 are pledged delegates. They are allocated on the basis of the results of the caucuses.

President Donald Trump, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence looking on, delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images. – Credit: Getty Images

A pledged delegate is a delegate to a political party’s presidential nominating convention that is ‘pledged’ to support the candidate to whom they are allocated.

When Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders made public appearances within days of each other in Des Moines, the capital of Iowa, in 2015, it was Bernie Sanders who drew the larger crowds. This set him on his way.

Iowa was the making of Barack Obama in 2008. Before that he was a rather exotic and charismatic junior senator from Illinois, a bit of a JFK throwback. For those Iowans who remembered the 35th president, Obama was his heir.

Iowa matters.

Every nation tells a tale to itself about itself. The word for this is mythos, Greek for ‘word’ or ‘story’. It is usually associated with what might be termed the ‘unreal world’, a thing that does not exist except in the imagination.

The American mythos centres around the Midwest: usually accepted to be the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

We Midwesterners are considered to be the ‘true grit’: plain spoken, salt of the earth, church-going and tee-totalling: at least in our intentions.

Some really fear God. Some really like guns.

Think about the movie legend Henry Fonda, born in Nebraska. He is solid Midwest in John Ford’s 1939 classic, Young Mr. Lincoln.

This ‘Midwesterness’ was so much a part of Fonda, so much a part of the legend, that Sergio Leone cleverly used it to blind-side the audience 30 years later when he cast Fonda as a stone-cold killer in Once Upon a Time in the West.

The film was a total shock to audiences. People literally gasped in movie theatres at Fonda as a bad guy, an indication of how solidly rooted the Midwest and its people are in the fabric of America.

The Midwestern candidates vying for the nomination of the Democratic Party for president of the United States are: Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Amy Klobuchar, a senator from Minnesota, and Eric Swalwell, a California congressman – but born in Iowa and sounding like it.

In contrast, Bernie Sanders is from Brooklyn and Joe Biden from Pennsylvania. Iowans love Bernie, although he is as Brooklyn as they come. And they love Joe, too, because, although a Pennsylvanian, he has a Midwestern touch: he is a champion of blue-collar workers and has a liking for diners at lunch.

Klobuchar had a classic 100% Midwestern launch, making her pitch in a blowing snowstorm: no hat, braving the elements. Buttigieg is 100% Midwest. When asked why he thought that Biden was in the lead, that maybe people wanted “normal” now, Buttigeg said simply, in a straightforward Indiana kind of way, that it was too late for all that. Why? Because “normal is broke”.

The Midwest has been part of the ‘Trump Archipelago’, those regions that also include the South, and now Florida. Once a swing state, now Trump Central.

The question is how the solid, straight-up-and-down Midwest went for the Manhattan real estate mogul, failed casino owner, beauty pageant impresario, flogger of own-named goods, Screen Actors Guild pensioner, resort and golf course owner, sponsor of bicycling race called the ‘Tour de Trump’, a man involved in literally thousands of law suits, a so-called Christian who says that he does not trouble God when making a decision, a guy who makes lying a normal activity.

How has he won over Iowans and others from neighbouring states?

For older Midwesterners – the ones who consistently vote – the region has its own mythos. This tale stars that faux-Midwestener James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. It is directed by that cinema master, Frank Capra, and next to It’s A Wonderful Life, the film is considered to be the supreme example of his oeuvre, known as ‘Capracorn’. Corn.

The plot: a naive man is appointed to fill a vacancy in the United States senate. His plans promptly collide with political corruption, but he doesn’t back down.

To Midwesterners, Donald Trump performs as Mr Smith. Every second of the day.

Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Indiana are known as the ‘Corn Belt’. Corn is America’s biggest cash crop and comes from this region, the biggest corn exporter on earth. This is why when Trump flings his tariffs around, he takes care of corn. He subsidises it.

They call it ‘farmers’ welfare’ and the farmers – independent people who like to stand on their own feet – don’t like the idea of taking a government subsidy. But they take it.

The caucuses are known as a ‘coming together of neighbours’. Instead of casting ballots, Iowans gather at 1,681 precincts, instead of voting places. The caucuses take place in public libraries, churches, schools and private homes. At a caucus, a potential voter is persuaded to vote in a certain way.

Sanders’ activists, in 2015/16, tended to be younger and better able to walk up and talk to strangers. That is the gist of caucusing: talking and persuading.

If you are Iowan, caucus time consists of listening to speeches; maybe being accosted by a candidate when you come out of a shop; having a mic stuck in your face by a big name journalist from New York City; seeing Elizabeth Warren chatting at the laundromat. It is a festival of politics.

The US allows petrol to be mixed with ethanol, a by-product of corn, to produce fuel. This market sells a lot of corn, so Trump must come to Iowa, too, to tell them that he is causing even more petrol to contain ethanol.

Iowa, as a consequence, might not be considered to be very ‘green’. It is still the matter of considerable debate whether the production and use of corn ethanol results in lower greenhouse gas emissions than petrol.

The so-called Green New Deal – the package of environmental measures being pushed by left-leaning Democrats like New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – might not turn out to be a vote winner in Iowa, except maybe in university towns like Dubuque.

Iowa is about winning.

1992 was the last year that the winner of Iowan caucuses did not win the Democratic Party nomination. That was senator Tom Harkin, of Iowa. Exactly. Who was he?

The Republicans have a more checkered history: In 2016, Ted Cruz won 26.7%, or 51,666 votes. Trump won 24.3%, or 45,427 votes. Trump ended up as the nominee. Bob Dole won Iowa in 1988 and George W. Bush went on to become the nominee.

So there is no wonder that Trump will be descending on the Hawkeye State – whose flag is patterned on the French tricolour because it was once part of a territory known as French Louisiana.

This is why the corn state matters: Iowa could be, more or less, the maker of the next president of the United States.

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