It started badly and then just got weird. Arriving at the mid-America arena in the city of Council Bluffs, Iowa, we were drenched in cold rain — part of a front that even brought early snow to nearby Nebraska.
Our plan to get the views of flag-clad Donald Trump supporters queuing to see the President literally had cold water poured on it and we ran for the press entrance.
No worries — we’ll just mingle and find some people to talk to inside, I thought. But, no.
When we picked up our press pass we were ordered straight to a media pen where we would be effectively caged with volunteers guarding the only break in the fence.
I protested but was told, even though there were at least 10,000 people present with the leader of the free world arriving soon, it was a “private” event. Say what?
After the rule imposer took a phone call we began to edge away but were intercepted by a White House aide and told to take our place in the pen.
To be fair she was polite, professional and funny as we trudged back to our home in the cage.
Contained in a cage
With two hours at least until the President’s address and our objective unfulfilled, I was left to make pleading eye contact and gestures at the many fans already in their seats.
An older guy in a navy hat obliged and came down for an interview, him on one side of the fence and me on the other.
He returned to his seat with a message from me and another four fans from high school age to pensioner came down to chat.
Conor Duffy tweet
They were all polite, engaged and helped us achieve the aim of our rather lengthy trip to gauge the mood of the President’s supporters ahead of the mid-terms.
While they seemed to enjoy the conversation, their demeanour changed markedly later (more on that later).
Trump tweet from Iowa
With time still to kill, I needed to go to the bathroom but had to have an elderly volunteer escort me lest I wickedly try and get direct perspectives from Trump voters.
Again, being fair — he was a lovely bloke.
He told me he couldn’t be on his feet too long so he was getting his shift in early as he wanted to sit later and watch a President live for the first time in his life.
Thankfully he let me into the cubicle unaccompanied but as soon as I emerged my elderly chaperone shuffled me back to our little square cage surrounded on its four sides by the local faithful.
I got back just in time for the first warm-up speaker who predictably railed against the press.
I saw the faces of the people I’d just interviewed become animated and angry as they yelled at the reporters and camera operators in the pen.
This continued on and off as speaker after speaker including the President exhorted the crowd to lob insults.
That would result in people on all four sides raining down insults, boos, laughter and finger pointing.
A tramp chair comes to mind
It was never unsafe and I don’t want to give a false impression that it was anything more sinister than loud mockery.
It was an extremely odd experience though to be effectively trapped while the people whose views you’d taken trouble to seek out shouted things at you over a couple of hours.
Media restrictions at campaign rallies are standard now, but not usually confined to such a small space and with such barriers to accessing the faithful.
It reminded me of reading about the aptly named tramp chair — a 19th-century instrument of humiliation where undesirables were strapped into a metal chair and pushed down the street for people to yell insults and for kids to poke them with sticks.
One young filmmaker who was in the crowd undercover came over to the pen and told me he was too afraid to approach people for interviews.
I’d earlier eyed him enviously, seemingly free to walk around and chat to whoever he wanted.
Turns out he was scared and just ended up furtively taking photos of people and pretending he was just there for the rally.
That restrictions left him too fearful to seek views seemed an own goal.
The fact that more than 10,000 people were there on a rainy Tuesday night left me with the impression the looming blue wave will still face serious red opposition and surely that’s a story Republicans want to be told.
And yes, I can confirm it’s true what the President has said before, that people were queueing outside and watching on screens — even in the rain.
I can also confirm though that the complaints about why they weren’t being filmed are because we were stuck in the bloody pen, rather than bias by omission.