Donald Trump is selling success, using his wealth as a calling card.
He announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday in classic Trump style. No diverse group of Americans behind him as Jeb Bush had Monday. No summoning the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt as Hillary Clinton did across the river Saturday.
Trump began his White House quest in the 68-story Fifth Avenue skyscraper brandishing his name, telling supporters at the Trump Tower, “I’m really rich.”
In case anyone didn’t get the message, he repeated it over and over. “I’m proud of my net worth. I really am,” said the self-described most successful person ever to seek the White House. To prove it, he held up financial statements Tuesday detailing his $8.7 billion net worth.
Americans do not, however, typically see business success as a key to leading the country.
They’re more prone to look to a more lofty kind of success, supporting the likes of George Washington (won the American Revolution), Thomas Jefferson (wrote the Declaration of Independence), Ulysses Grant (won the Civil War) or Dwight Eisenhower (led the Allies to victory in World War II).
Trump’s unorthodox path to the presidency is not just a matter of background, but of style. His winding 46-minute address was part rambling monologue, part vision for America and part down-and-dirty politics. He was unapologetic in deriding his opponents, branding American politicians “losers” and incompetent.
He bristled at the notion that Bush could win the White House, since the former Florida governor supports a path to legal status for many undocumented immigrants as well as Common Core national educational standards. “How the hell can you vote for this guy? You just can’t do it,” Trump insisted.
But the overarching message Trump offered Tuesday was that he has a proven ability to make things work. “I will be the greatest jobs president God ever created,” he pledged.
His proof was his success getting rich. He held up a financial statement detailing his $9.2 billion in assets and $8.7 billion in net worth as of June 30, 2014.
He cited “the greatest assets – Trump Tower, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, Bank of America building in San Francisco, 40 Wall Street . . . many other places all over the world.”
After some applause, Trump explained, “I’m not doing that to brag, because you know what? I don’t have to brag.”
Trump also is a television personality. He and NBC are partners in the ownership and broadcast rights for the Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA beauty pageants. He has hosted “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice” on NBC, though as long as he’s a candidate he won’t host the show.
Trump described America’s turmoil, then played tough guy. “When was the last time anybody saw us beat, let’s say, China in a trade deal? They kill us. I beat China all the time,” he insisted.
Mexico? They’re sending “people who have lots of problems” into this country, he said, so “I would build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”
While that style has made him a billionaire, his negotiating skills don’t require majority votes, or more, in a Congress populated by politicians eyeing the next election or trying to please donors.
He now faces voters who have long had a complicated relationship with wealthy leaders. Less rich Americans want to move into their economic stratosphere, but they are often suspicious of what it takes to get there.
Clinton is the latest example. She remains the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination, but questions about her family foundation’s donors and her own path to wealth continue to dog her.
Trump tried a bit to ease concerns about his background. “I think I am a nice person. People that know me, like me,” he said.
But he also couldn’t resist getting tough. He recalled telling a reporter, “This is going to be an election that’s based on competence, because people are tired of these nice people. And they’re tired of being ripped off by everybody in the world.”
Soon afterward, Trump was off to Iowa to campaign. He’ll at least get a lot of attention.
“Voters who are frustrated with politics as usual may believe that his bluntness is exactly what could shake things up in Washington,” said Craig Robinson, editor-in-chief of TheIowaRepublican.com, a partisan newsletter. “The more the media laughs and scoffs at him, the more popular he may become with activists.”