What they carried was winnowed as the time went by. Much of what seemed necessary in July of 2015 was, by the last week of January, gone. Now they carried only the things that were required of them. They carried red ties and blue-striped ties, fake tanner and bronzer, hairspray, a sports coat. They carried Sharpies, thick for signs and thin for photos. They carried black shoe polish and Kleenex. They carried flag pins. Some of them carried hand sanitizer. In their pockets, they carried carried a list of donors, with the names of their children in a slightly smaller type, so as not to get confused, and reminders that it’s MegYn, not MegAn, and the Koch brothers’ email address. They all knew it by heart, of course, but the mind can play tricks on a man who’s been on the campaign trail for too long. Better to have it in your pocket, just in case.
They carried breath mints and gum, or the ones who didn’t have a body man did, which was most of them. They carried wallets, and in their wallets they carried photos, of their kids, and their dogs, and their wives, who were usually on trail themselves, lunching with the Kiwanis, always the Kiwanis. Some of them carried phones, and on those phones they carried a list of their medications, and Candy Crush, and the National Review’s app which they didn’t know had been discontinued, they’d been on trail for so long.
Once, one of their phones had played the All Things Considered theme and everyone had looked around, shocked. Chris, sheepish, said, “Oppo research.” They carried baggies of old cookie crumbs from three towns before.
They carried a sense of entitlement. They carried expectations, and hopes, and as the season wore on, they started to carry annoyances and grievances and dashed dreams. They all carried the memories of the men who’d left, of George, and Bobby, and the one with the girl’s name who they all called Cindy now. There were others, who no one remembered anymore. Only Rick remembered that there had been another Rick, who he called “Glasses” in his head, even though everyone else had just called them both “Rick.”
Ted, who had grown up in Texas and never let anyone forget it, carried a small Canadian flag with him, buried deep in his pocket where he thought no one would noticed it. At night, in the Marriott, he would take it out and wave it from the 23rd floor balcony, humming “Oh Canada” to himself. “My home and…” He would start to sing, but he wouldn’t finish. Someone told him that the Woman, Carly, had hidden cameras everywhere.
Across the street, at the Holiday Inn, Rick carried his own things. The sweater vest, the one he’d worn last tour. Blue, starting to pill. It was too cold in Iowa for a sweater vest, but Rick carried it anyway, took it out and sniffed it from time to time.
Mike carried a Bible, small, bound in fake leather. When they stopped to eat, sometimes, he would read aloud from it, and some of them were glad to hear it and seemed to listen, but the Sergeant only said, “Shut up, Mikey, geez, ya idiot.” Don was the Sergeant, and what he said goes. Mike hated him, but what could he do? They had to follow the Sergeant.
Ben had a lucky quarter in his back pocket. He’d talk to anyone about that quarter, show how it was made the year he was born, talk about the pyramid on the back, with the eye.
“It watches us, guys,” he’d say. “It’s the eye of God.”
“Oh my God, this fucking weirdo,” the Sergeant would say. “There’s no pyramid on the back of a quarter!”
But Ben didn’t care. He’d just put the quarter back in his pocket. He was getting out in March, they all knew. No one ever said it.
Marco carried the lyrics of “Freebird,” given to him by a young woman in a Ronald Reagan T-shirt in Concord, New Hampshire. Sometimes he looked at it. Rand watched him, and thought, He’s never listened to Skynyrd in his life. Those lyrics were for me.
They all called Jeb “Point.” It had been “Jeb Exclamation Point” and then “Exclamation Point” and now it was just “Point.” Marco liked to go back and walk with Point, who always brought up the rear. “We don’t really need to be doing this,” Point said. “Schelpping ourselves all over. We could do all the primaries in one day. Two, tops.” It sounded crazy, to hear it like that, but Marco thought Point was dreaming of a better, different world.
In the meantime, they marched. They marched to Des Moines and Cedar Rapids and Iowa City and Davenport. They marched to Ames and Dubuque and Sioux City. They marched to Waterloo, which Point thought was pretty funny, though no one else laughed. They marched to Manchester and Concord and Portsmouth and Nashua and Dover. On and on and on they marched.
“This can’t be worth it,” Chris said to the group one day. “Can it?”
Not quite answering him, Johnny K. looked into the distance and said, “When I get home, I’m grabbing my golf clubs and heading straight to the green.”
“Of course, it’s worth it,” the Sergeant said. “What the hell is the matter with you, moron? Who wouldn’t want to be President of the United States?” He stomped off.
Every man nodded and kept moving. But Marco thought about something George had said to him just before he left — “Any man who wants it has to be insane” — and stopped to watch the men trudge on, forward, always forward, through the mud and through time. Maybe George was right he thought. But the moment passed, and he straightened his tie, pulled his stump speech from his pocket, and continued on trail, too.