Breakfast on the Campaign Trail: How Not to Pander with Grits
Donald Trump doesn’t care about breakfast. Doesn't eat it. Avoids it, actually. But if it’s thrust upon him, the options least likely to offend his sensibilities would be bacon (medium), eggs (over hard), and cereal. "Different kinds of cereals. Made in the USA, has to be made in the USA. You know the cornflake type stuff, Raisin Bran. Has to be right out of the fields of Iowa," he told FOX News.
Perhaps if the presumptive Republican presidential nominee spent more time hunkering over the breakfast bar perusing the side of the cereal box, he'd have noticed that a lot of the name-brand bran is being produced in Mexico these days. But then again, he's got a wall built up against the morning meal in a way that few politicians can afford to.
For aspiring world leaders, breakfast is the most politically stacked meal of the day.
Back in 2012, Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich both latched onto morning grits as a way to connect with Southern voters. At a campaign stop in Jackson, Mississippi, the Detroit-born Romney drawled to the crowd, "I got started this morning with a biscuit and some cheesy* grits. I'll tell ya, delicious. Hilton Garden Inn knows just what to serve me in the morning."
Georgia-raised Gingrich lobbed the apparent pander back at his opponent a day later, assuring his own Mobile, Alabama, audience, "Governor Romney indicated yesterday morning was the first time he’d ever tasted grits. I just wanted to reassure all of you that I have had some acquaintance with a variety of forms, whether it’s with shrimp, with cheese, with gravy. I get it."
As it turns out, neither of them got it, nor did Mike Huckabee, who may be the most frequent pot-stirrer on the topic of breakfast and Southern identity. In his 2015 book God, Guns, Grits and Gravy, the former Arkansas governor and periodic presidential hopeful dug in deep on the latter two as he attempted to delineate between "Bubba-ville" (where he lives) and "Bubble-ville" (NYC, DC, and LA).
"But it's more than guns. Have you ever tried to order grits in a fancy Manhattan restaurant? Good luck. Not even for breakfast!** And you'll get some real weird looks if you ask for 'sawmill gravy' on your potatoes or biscuits—that is if you find real biscuits. And I'm sorry, but gravy on a bagel doesn't work for me," Huckabee wrote.
And neither would that particular cultural mash-up work for the millions of bagel lovers for whom the combo of cream sauce and pork sausage is strictly verboten. Huckabee's bubble burst just a little over a year later when he failed to create much sizzle within his own party at the Iowa primary.***
Barack Obama ordered grits along the 2012 campaign trail no matter where he was—even Rust Belt states where they're less culturally ingrained. Most notably, perhaps, at Ann's Place in Akron, Ohio, where he ordered two eggs over easy, bacon, wheat toast, orange juice, water, and a side of grits (he'd already eaten salmon and sea bass at the hotel restaurant that morning—let it never be said that the road to the White House is paved with moderate eating habits). The restaurant's 70-year-old owner Josephine "Ann" Harris happily fed the president, got a hug in the parking lot, and after complaining of fatigue and tingling sensations passed away at 11:18 that same morning. Obama phoned the family with his condolences later that day.
But that's hardly the only breakfast to which his political legacy is linked—for better or worse. For every "Obama special" that's a delicious homage (like the three wings and a waffle "Country Boy" combo renamed for him after he ordered it on a 2011 campaign trail stop at Roscoe's in Los Angeles), there's another directing him to kiss their grits. The American Diner in Liverpool, New York offers a "Dictator Obama" special of two eggs and toast at $3.59, plus a tax of $27.99. (The “Anti-Michelle Obama, Don’t Tell Me What to Eat or Feed My Kids Burger” is a 16-ounce beef patty with bacon, cheese, and a side of fries—hat and shirt included if you finish it. Standard tax applied, save for the one to the eater's arterial health.)
The diner's owner, Michael Tassone, touts it as a place to "solve the world's problems, while the politicians ruin our country," offers a 10 percent discount to active NRA members and encourages open carry on premises. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the registered Conservative says he is voting Trump.
Former presidential hopeful Ted Cruz is equally fired up about gun rights and breakfast and expressed those passions in tandem in a 2015 YouTube video where he wound several pieces of bacon around the muzzle of a gun, squeezed off several rounds, and savored the slices while cooing, "Mmmm… machine gun bacon."
Cruz was later taken to task for both the unsanitary food prep (the meat touched the gun barrel directly and may not have reached a safe temperature) and inaccurately referring to the AR-15 rifle as a machine gun. Along the campaign trail, he's partial to a lower caliber morning meal of a McDonald's egg-white sandwich.
On the other side of the aisle, Hillary Clinton opts for well-done scrambled eggs on the road—presumably in part to keep her food safe from the notoriously wandering fork of her mostly vegan husband. But lest her tastes seem a little too middle-of-the-road, know that the plate has likely been doused in a good amount of Tabasco—possibly from her purse. Twitter users were quick to accuse Clinton of attempting to snag some swag from Beyoncé's "Formation" (not to mention the favor of African-American voters) when she told the Breakfast Club's Charlamagne Tha God that she keeps hot sauce in her bag. However, the Democratic front-runner has a long-documented habit of carrying red pepper flakes and raw jalapeños with her on the road, not to mention her 100-plus bottle collection at home.
But devotees of a different kind of Bern may be surprised to find out that the Vermont senator shares certain tastes with Donald Trump—namely Raisin Bran, which he pairs with cherry juice and an English muffin at home, and the bacon and eggs he fuels himself with along the trail.
One key difference (OK, one of several billion): While Trump steers clear of coffee—other than selling "Select by Trump" Keurig pods—a candid picture of Sanders clutching a cup of Dunkin' Donuts joe on a train has been viewed over two million times. His coffee lightener of choice is cream, he told the Skimm a bit gruffly ("Do you have many of these questions?" he asked). Maybe because one percent milk would leave the whole brew a little bit too rich.
*Gotta grit my teeth and go with Huckabee on this one. Per his book God, Guns, Grits and Gravy: "[N]ever, ever call them 'cheesy grits' because 'cheezy' means cheap and fake, not cheese-filled."
**Wait, what? If you couldn't find grits or biscuits and gravy on a Manhattan breakfast menu in 2015, you just weren't trying at all. Seriously, that's all anyone serves. It's practically a law.
***Dixie Quick's in Council Bluff, Iowa, has a really good rep for its biscuits and gravy, and grits are available as a side. Just in case you're passing that way again in 2020, Mike.