NOVI, Michigan — As Donald Trump’s campaign works to drive a sharper message down the home stretch, the GOP nominee is increasingly invoking the specter of a conspiracy by big corporations, media companies and donors to elect Hillary Clinton.
The warnings, coming in scripted and sometimes personal attack lines in nearly every recent speech, are largely geared towards mobilizing Trump’s base of disaffected white working class voters, according to a campaign official.
But the official acknowledged that the populist rhetoric also is intended to appeal to college-educated middle-class voters who tell pollsters that they believe there are “two sets of rules — one for insiders, another for the rest of us.” That includes former supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ unsuccessful campaign against Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
And Trump’s recent condemnations of the elite pillars of American society — which the source traced to the influence of Trump’s new campaign executive chairman Steve Bannon and the campaign’s policy director Stephen Miller — at times echo Sanders closely.
During a Thursday rally in Bedford, N.H., Trump called out “the special interests, the lobbyists and the corrupt corporate media that have rigged the system against everyday Americans, and they’ve rigged it for a long time.”
In a variation of a line he’s been including in every speech since his shaky performance in Monday’s debate, Trump told a crowd Wednesday afternoon crowd in Council Bluffs, Iowa, that his campaign “is taking on big business and big media and big donors. We’re taking them on for you.”
And, in a Friday evening speech before a raucous crowd in this suburb of Detroit, Trump added that “the wealthy donors, the large corporations and the media executives” are “all part of the same corrupt political establishment. And they nod along when Hillary Clinton slanders you as ‘deplorable’ and ‘irredeemable.’ ”
Taken together, it represents the fullest and most concise expression — and certainly among the most consistent — of an evolving class-based appeal from an unlikely messenger.
Not only is Trump a billionaire real estate developer who has spent his adult life consorting with the types of big-shots he’s now spending much of his stump speech disparaging, but he has been ramping up his outreach to wealthy donors down the homestretch. He held closed-press fundraisers at hotels in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Friday evening, and in New York on Thursday.
Trump has even hinted at the irony in his recent speeches, telling the Council Bluffs crowd that the big donors and corporate and media chieftains “go to the same restaurants, they attend the same conferences, they have the same friends and connections, and some of ‘em even like me, I’ll be honest with you, but that doesn’t matter.”
The discordance aside, the campaign official said recent internal polling suggests that the message is resonating “big time,” among both working class and college-educated voters, who see 2016 as a “change election.”
The concerted crusade against big donors, big media and big business is a corollary of a simultaneous effort to cast Clinton as a pawn of special interests and donors, who is protected by the media.
Trump tied the two together in Friday in Novi, telling the crowd “the news anchors and the donors and the lobbyists, who are used to do getting their way, are trying to do everything they can to help crooked Hillary Clinton, and to cling to their power.”
And Trump called Hillary Clinton “an insider fighting only for herself and her donors. I am an outsider fighting for you. We have a movement like they’ve never seen in this country before.”
Most of Trump’s rallies at which he has been pressing the case have been in middle-class or upper middle class towns like Novi, which one website in 2015 named among the snobbiest places in Michigan.
Rebecca Nickel, a 67-year-old college-educated resident of nearby Fenton, Mich., said after Trump’s speech here that she believed that wealthy donors, corporations and media executives were all in the “same boat” holding down the middle class.
“Honey, they built an ark,” she said. “They didn’t make any room for us, though.”
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