For loyal supporters of President Donald Trump, any notion of trouble at the White House is fiction. As they watched him at a campaign-style rally this week, Russia was far from their minds.
For Chris Graber, the attraction was instant.
“As soon as he came out on the stage, and put everyone else in their place, I loved him,” she told me with a glint in her eye.
Ever since the first primary debates to pick a Republican candidate back in 2015, Chris has been hooked.
And so, on a rainy Wednesday, she and her husband Burdean celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary, at a rally hosted by President Trump in their home state of Iowa.
As they waited in the huge arena, which was draped in large American flags and Trump signs, they munched on popcorn.
The couple were wearing matching T-shirts with a cartoon image of the president on the front, and the slogan “Keep on Trumpin'” in white letters.
“There’s an old American saying, ‘Keep on Truckin’, which means don’t give up”, explained Chris, an artist, who designed the T-shirts herself.
“We are behind our president and are encouraging him to stick to his guns.”
The long line of supporters that snaked around the building reminded me of the last time I’d seen people queuing for a political event.
It was only a few weeks earlier that dozens of interns and congressional staffers waited in line from the early hours to watch the former director of the FBI testify before Congress.
There the buzz was of a different kind. Did the Trump campaign collude with the Russians? Did the president call for the inquiry into his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to be covered up? Is the president himself now under investigation?
It’s hard to get through a day in Washington DC without that R-word (Russia) being mentioned.
But on the streets of Iowa, the only R-word anyone really cared about was rain, as the hundreds who queued huddled under umbrellas during a short afternoon downpour.
Talk of hacked elections and potential collusion is all “fake news” to supporters here.
“All everybody wants to do is concentrate on this Russia thing, and it’s bogus,” said Becky Gee, who’d traveled here from the state of Ohio.
Becky, who’s 31, was one of a hardcore group of supporters who’d been waiting for more than 24 hours to ensure they snagged a prime spot at the rally.
“I slept on the sidewalk last night,” she said, as she showed me how she’d come prepared, with camping chairs, a cooler-box, and a pillow.
Becky was queuing with 70-year-old Patricia, who had come to Iowa from New York. The pair became friends after meeting in another queue for a Trump rally, in Pennsylvania earlier this year.
Since taking office, President Trump has held a number of campaign-style gatherings, where he delivers stump speeches in front of thousands.
Not everyone thinks they’re a good idea. The local paper, the Cedar Rapids Gazette published an open letter to the president urging him to stop holding rallies and focus on governing.
But as we’ve come to learn, governing as Donald Trump can mean breaking with convention.
As a politician who thrives on adoration and attention, these large-scale events give him the perfect opportunity to connect with his base.
As he took to the stage to the sort of deafening screams I’m more accustomed to hearing at concerts, Donald Trump belted out some of his campaign classics.
There were the attacks on the media. In true pantomime style, every time we were mentioned, the crowd booed and jeered as they turned to face us in the press pen.
There were the jibes at the Democrats, only moments after he had called on politicians to put aside their differences.
And there were the references to how large the crowd size was, “every corner is packed of this big, big arena,” said the president.
In so many ways – look, sound and feel – it felt similar to the large gatherings candidate-Trump hosted during the election.
The stage was the same, the chants were the same (“build a wall”, and “lock her up”), as I looked out onto a sea of red Make America Great Again baseball caps, I could’ve been back in 2016.
There were a few differences though, like the press accreditation we were given, which had ‘White House’ written on it, and the signs on stage which said ‘Promises Made, Promises Kept’.
This rally was also an opportunity to present a highlights reel of some of the campaign pledges he’s fulfilled since taking office – the appointment of a conservative Supreme Court justice, increasing deportations, his withdrawal from both the Paris Climate Accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, and the partial reversal of Obama’s Cuba policy.
The crowd roared its approval. Despite his almost daily tweets on the matter, the president barely mentioned the Russia investigation in his hour long speech.
“I absolutely love this man,” said Linda Hinzie, who’d driven for days to get here from Mississippi. “It’s a wonderful energy to be here. It’s marvelous he’s taking the time to be with voters,” she said, as she clutched a sign with “Drain the Swamp” printed on it.
Earlier in the evening, a playlist of songs often heard on the campaign trail was blasted into the room to get the crowd revved up.
Members of the audience swayed, as Elton John’s “I’m still standing” came on.
The election might be long over, but for Donald Trump and his supporters, these rallies are about keeping a movement alive.
FBI investigations, overactive tweeting, and stalled travel bans are reasons many Americans think the Trump presidency is on a downward spiral.
But for many who voted for him, that characterisation simply doesn’t ring true.
In the words of that Elton John song:
“I’m still standing yeah, yeah, yeah…”
Courtesy Rajini Vaidyanathan @ BBC.com