When President Trump spoke to a fired-up crowd of thousands on May 10, he gave his own administration credit for the improvement: “Promises Made. Promises Kept,” read the banners strung up across the gymnasium.
So I was surprised at how much the energy in the gymnasium felt to me like anger, amid the painting of such a healthy picture. Several issues on Mr. Trump’s political agenda — chief among them gun rights, immigration and dismantling the Affordable Care Act — seemed to have hit close to home. So had his often divisive rhetoric: Along with unprompted chants of “Lock her up,” chants of “Build the wall” broke out during Mr. Trump’s visit.
This time around, I wanted to talk with people I hadn’t interviewed before. I ended up relying on a secret weapon — my dad — to put me in contact with local Republicans, including Daniel Holtz, the chairman of the local G.O.P.
“I believe that Elkhart has always been sort of a boom and bust town,” said Mr. Holtz, adding that the same story of the town’s recovery “had been written in the ’70s and ’80s,” meaning that a town that relies on the production of a luxury good like RVs tends to lead into a recession and lead out.
As midterm elections approach, the political truth is that the Trump administration’s ultraconservative agenda is attractive to many people in my hometown and state. For some across the country, that alone is grounds to discount the community as racist, backward or on the wrong side of history. But it’s clear to me that in Elkhart County, a place where the Hispanic population is at 15 percent and rising, residents are still struggling in real time to figure out what values they stand for, and which decisions might directly impact the people they live and work beside.
My trip home served as a personal and journalistic reminder that the reality outside a political rally is usually more complex than a reporter can hope to capture in the span of a campaign speech.
After the rally, the press pool hopped on Air Force One to fly back to Washington with the president. I stayed behind. I filed my story, watched the gymnasium empty out and then drove home to see my parents, who reminded me not to text and drive.
*Seriously. Try the breadsticks.