In announcing his presidential candidacy, Donald Trump used his patented carnival barker’s routine. After that he took off for New Hampshire to actually campaign.
At his first stop he drew a good-sized crowed. After his pitch, reporters asked some of those attending what they thought of Trump as a candidate. One man told an interviewer, “He says it like it is. I like the fact he started at the bottom and built his success himself.”
The legendary rags-to-riches story? Not exactly. Donald Trump was the son of Fred Trump, a well-established and wealthy real estate developer in New York City. His company, Elizabeth Trump and Son, specialized in middle-class rental housing in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Unglamorous, but it filled a need.
After some earlier school difficulties, young Donald was sent to the New York Military Academy to shape up, which he did. There, he earned academic honors and played on the football, soccer, and baseball teams. He then spent two years at Fordham University followed by two, and a degree, at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, which at the time was one of the few universities with a real estate degree program.
Donald started at the bottom (if you consider an assignment from his father “the bottom”) before he graduated from Penn. Father Fred, sensing that Donald had a real knack for the business, asked him to come up with a plan to turn around a foreclosed apartment complex in Cincinnati. He did, and the company sold the project for a solid profit a few years later.
“The Donald” was off and running. In 1971, his father turned over control of the company to Donald who renamed it The Trump Organization. From this point on he embarked on a long series of projects, nearly all of them successful. He built numerous apartment and office towers, hotels, casinos, golf courses, “reality” television shows and he owns the Miss Universe beauty pageant.
Back to that fan in New Hampshire who admires Trump for pulling himself up by his bootstraps—so the speak. Therein may lie the formula for campaign success. Trump, who brags endlessly about everything else, could begin bragging about his humble beginnings (part-time job to put himself through college) and his determination (real) to succeed.
There is a political precedent for this sort of borrowed personal history. In the first half of the 19th century it was popular among politicians to have log cabin roots. That is, they were born in one or at least their parents were. It was true of Lincoln, but not of some others. Take one of the most successful users, William Henry Harrison, the 9th president, elected in 1840. He was governor of the large Indiana Territory (now several states) after winning the Battle of Tippecanoe over area tribes.
After the Whigs nominated him a Baltimore newspaper controlled by Democrats disparaged him, writing that he should be given “a barrel of hard cider and pension of two thousand a year and… he will sit the remainder of his days in a log cabin…” This gave him the humble-beginnings touch he needed. In fact, he was born at Berkeley Plantation, a large spread on the James River in Virginia. It had been in his family since 1726 and his grandfather was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Harrison’s supporters buried that “elitist” background. All campaign signs and badges emblazoned with a log cabin. Every headquarters was called a “log cabin,” with the latch string out and a hard cider on tap.
The Democrats’ candidate, Martin Van Buren, of Kinderhook, New York, was always impeccably tailored and was thus depicted as a dandy against plain, old Log Cabin Harrison, who won.
So there it is, a winning strategy for The Donald.