‘Blue-collar billionaire’ persona captivates supporters

A handful of vacation homes. A car elevator for his four-car garage. A wife whose hobbies included show horses.

When Mitt Romney ran for president four years ago, his estimated $250m (€225m) fortune was turned into a liability by Democrats, who painted the ex-Bain Capital chief as out of touch with Americans struggling to recover from the recession.

Four years later, Donald Trump’s much bigger pile of money is a central character of his campaign. 

And far from seeing it as a liability, the candidate flaunts it.

“I’m the most successful person ever to run for president,” the billionaire businessman brags, noting that he’s “really rich”. 

On the stump, he vows to “make our country rich again”.

Mr Trump will officially become his party’s nominee at this week’s Republican convention, powered by white, working-class voters drawn to his populist message.

The billionaire lives an opulent life on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, worlds away from the day-to-day reality of most supporters. 

Yet many believe he understands their problems. Some dub him the “blue-collar billionaire”.

“You might say because he lives in the ivory tower, he doesn’t see what people are doing down below. 

He honestly does,” said Claude Thompson, 59, a Trump supporter who lives in Fresno, California.

Mr Thompson, who runs a property maintenance business, cited Mr Trump’s employment of people through his companies as proof of his working-class connections.

“He knows that these people are blue-collar people, they’re middle income... so he understands America,” he said.

The difference between the perception of Mr Trump’s and Mr Romney’s money, Trump supporters say, comes down to attitude.

While some felt Mr Romney tried to downplay his wealth, Mr Trump has embraced it — at times even mocking Mr Romney’s smaller net worth.

Mr Trump jets around the country on his private plane. His campaign has doubled as a tour of his gilded properties, from Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan to the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach.

“Trump’s like, screw it, you know? I’m rich, I don’t care,” said Aspen Trevino of Carrollton, Texas. “He flaunts it.”

Mr Trevino, 25, views Mr Trump, who was given the reins of his father’s multi-million dollar real estate business in 1974, as someone to look up to.

“He makes it the America Dream, so people will say: ‘I can do that.’ I want to follow a president that I can look up to,” said Mr Trevino.

As the campaign moves toward the general election, Democrats have begun to paint Mr Trump as an out-of-touch billionaire trampling the little guy to build his fortune. 

Among Democrats’ evidence: contractors and vendors who suffered during company bankruptcies when Mr Trump emerged just fine. Whether the reputation sticks remains to be seen.

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