Like his father, by whom he is employed, Donald Trump Jr. is a Wharton graduate* who enjoys some of the finer things in life (in his case, things like big game hunting in Africa). He also has the bearing of a pushy bond trader with slicked-back hair reminiscent of one Patrick Bateman. That, on its face, might make him seem like an odd choice for delivering a message about how much Trump the elder cherishes and respects blue-collar Americans. And yet, on the second night of the Republican National Convention, he did a surprisingly effective job of it.
In the most memorable chunk of the speech, Trump Jr. talked about growing up watching his father at work. “He didn’t hide out behind some desk in an executive suite, he spent his career with regular Americans,” he said. “He hung out with the guys on construction sites, pouring sheetrock and hanging—pouring concrete and hanging sheetrock. He listened to them and he valued their opinions as much and often more than the guys from Harvard and Wharton locked away in offices, away from the real work.” On the nose? Sure. Obvious pandering? Sure. But it’s also believable enough, in part because Trump himself talks like a carpenter from Middle Village. And when Trump Jr. told the crowd that many of his father’s executives started off in blue-collar jobs, he wasn’t lying.
The next section, meanwhile, was a master class in catering to your audience:
His true gift as a leader is that he sees the potential in people that they don’t even see in themselves. The potential that other executives will overlook because their resumes don’t include the name of fancy colleges and degrees. I know he values those workers and those qualities in people, because those are the individuals he had my siblings and me work under when we started out, that he would trust his own children’s formative years to these men and women says all you need to know about Donald Trump. We didn’t learn from MBAs. We learned from people who had doctorates in common sense. Guys like Vinny who taught us how to drive heavy equipment operate tractors and chainsaws who worked his way through the ranks to become an entrusted father. It’s why we’re the only children of billionaires as comfortable in a Caterpillar as we are in our own cars.
Coming from a man who did, in fact, go to business school (albeit undergrad)—whose father regularly brags about his own Ivy League degree—this all a bit funny. But never mind that. It gets in a dig at fancy, college-educated folks. It flatters the good sense of working-class men. And Vinny! How can you not trust a man who trusts his own kids to Vinny?
And there is probably a lot of sincerity in this. Regardless of Trump’s habit of running get-rich-quick schemes that prey on desperate, hard-up families, or his apparent desire to deliver tax cuts to billionaires, he is at his core a “kid from Queens,” as his son put it, who first made his fortune in real estate and construction, one of the last industries in America that has a way of breaking down class barriers. He shares plenty of blue-collar values and blue-collar resentments. And while Donald Trump might not be able to offer guys like Vinny much in the way of policy, he can probably offer them some of his own respect. For a lot of voters, that’s enough.
*Correction, July 20, 2016: This post misstated that Donald Trump Jr. and his father are Wharton MBAs. They both have undergraduate degrees from the business school.