Trump’s billionaire bravado in Iowa

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in front of supporters and his helicopter Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Trump's campaign has weathered several controversies and has a loyal following

Trump’s billionaire bravado in Iowa

While embattled Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton sampled grilled pork chop on a stick and pressed the flesh with potential voters at the Iowa State Fair on Saturday afternoon, Donald Trump circled overhead in a $7m (£4.5m) helicopter - one of three he owns.

Sometimes political symbolism is impossible to miss.

For much of this US presidential campaign, the New York real estate mogul turned presidential aspirant has seemed to operate at a different altitude from traditional politicians.

Mrs Clinton has been beset by questions about the propriety of her use of a private email server while secretary of state, for instance, and the story has taken a toll on her standing in the polls.

Mr Trump's candidacy, on the other hand, defies gravity. Despite controversial comments and a history of inconsistency on hot-button political issues - flaws that would sink an ordinary candidate - he continues to thrive, fuelled by a mix of showman's pizzazz and an apparent immunity to outrage from the political and media establishment.

That flamboyant air was on full display on Saturday, as Mr Trump's helicopter, emblazoned with his name in big white letters, swooped down onto a baseball field parking lot about half a mile away from the fairgrounds.

Trump popped out, sporting his now trademark "Make America Great Again" hat, and addressed a gathering of several dozen reporters, volunteers and families with children who were drawn to the field with promises of free rides on the Trump-copter.

"I love children. I love Iowa," he said to cheers.

From there it didn't take long for the candidate to display the blunderbuss approach he takes to political rhetoric.

Mrs Clinton has "big problems" when it comes to the email story, he said. "The facts aren't looking good for her right now."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hillary Clinton was also seen pressing the flesh at the Iowa State Fair

Jeb Bush, who visited the fairgrounds the previous day, was next to be criticised. His attempts earlier in the week to justify the Iraq War were "incredible", Trump said. "It can't be justified."

His calls for the US to have "skin in the game" in Iraq "was one of the dumbest statements I've ever heard".

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Media captionThe state fair, famous for its butter cow sculpture, becomes a campaign site every four years

"The Iraqi officials are a bunch of crooks, if there even is an Iraq, which I don't think there is," he continued.

Perhaps Mr Trump's most notable line of criticism, however, is also the unlikeliest. As he did during the Republican debate just over a week ago, the billionaire issues a pox-on-both-houses condemnation of big-money involvement in political campaigns.

Mr Trump has pledged to finance his entire campaign using his own money, so he can "do the right thing for America" when he's president.

"I know how the system works better than anybody," he said, adding that he was "one of the greats" at buying political influence.

He calls wealthy campaign donors "sophisticated killers". When they give money to Mr Bush, he says, "they have him just like a puppet, he'll do whatever they want".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Trump sampled some stick-skewered pork at the fair - as Ms Clinton had shortly before

Mr Trump is later asked whether he's worried that by constantly boasting of his wealth he'll be painted as an out-of-touch one-percenter, the way Republican nominee Mitt Romney was in 2012.

Mr Romney "wasn't that rich," was Trump's dismissive reply.

For Mr Trump's supporters, his vast wealth - estimated at several billion dollars - is a feature not a flaw. It gives him the freedom to say and act as he pleases.

"Trump adds a new dynamic to the campaign," says Sarah Bowman, who is waiting with her husband and their four children - one sporting a Trump T-shirt and another clutching a small toy helicopter - for Mr Trump's arrival at the ball field.

"He's saying things that people who are too afraid to be politically incorrect aren't saying."

Image caption Trump supporter Betty Tully said she admired Mr Trump's outspoken nature

About halfway between the field and the fairgrounds, Betty Tully was also eagerly anticipating Mr Trump's arrival. She had been outside all morning, holding a pink sign offering fairgoers the chance to park in her yard for $5.

When she heard that Mr Trump might pass by her lot on the way to the fair, she wrote: "Trump we love you" on the other side of the sign.

"I'll probably have a heart attack or something if he stops," she said.

"What he thinks and what he says, I love him," she continued. "He's outspoken. Other candidates wouldn't tell you how it is, but he does."

When Mr Trump eventually did make it to the fairgrounds, he was mobbed by the crowd. Hundreds packed into the building that houses the famed Iowa butter cow - a life-sized bovine sculpture made of 600lb (272kg) of butter - where Mr Trump was rumoured to be heading.

Instead, the crowd forces him to stay outside and he buys a box of the same stick-skewered pork chops that Mrs Clinton had sampled just over an hour before.

Inside the pavilion, Vern Engel - who had travelled with his wife from Kansas City, Missouri, to see Mr Trump - is disappointed. He stands by his candidate, however.

"He can do very well for the economy, and he's a very successful guy," he says. "The other politicians are controlled by their handlers. He's not."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders greeted his supporters - but couldn't offer them any helicopter rides

Of course Mr Trump isn't the only candidate using fiery rhetoric to denounce what he sees as the scourge of money on political campaigns.

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders - the Vermont senator who has generated enthusiasm on the populist left and set tongues wagging when he placed ahead of Mrs Clinton in a recent New Hampshire poll - regularly condemns what he views as the undue influence of the "billionaire class" on US politics.

As Mr Sanders was speaking to a crowd of around 1,000, Mr Trump's helicopter passed overhead, taking one of the more prominent members of that billionaire class back to his private jet at the Des Moines airport.

Upon hearing the helicopter rotors, the Vermont senator paused from his speech, looked up and quipped that he left his helicopter at home - although he promised to give children a ride in his rental car if they were interested.

The audience laughed, but for Republicans Mr Trump's presidential bid is no joke. He's pouring resources into Iowa - a sign that he's serious about winning the first-in-the-nation caucuses in February.

"You cannot swing a dead cat in Iowa and not hit a Trump person," a director for a competing campaign told The Washington Post.

Mr Trump may be condemning the outsized influence of cash donations on US campaigns, but he's busy showing just what kind of attention money can buy, helicopter rides and all.