Trump values himself at around $10 billion, but is almost certainly worth significantly less than that; earlier this month, Fortune valued his net worth at a shade under $4 billion. His finances have come up again and again this election cycle, and it looks like that will continue as we sprint toward November. According a Politico deep dive into Trump’s finances, “The Clinton campaign wants to portray Trump’s business empire as a Potemkin village, showy on the surface, but with little underneath.” Clinton’s surrogates have also questioned if Trump hasn’t released his tax returns because they are the Rosetta Stone of Trump’s fraudulence. “Maybe he’s just a lousy businessman who doesn’t want you to find out that he’s worth a lot less money than he claims,” wondered Elizabeth Warren last week.
But Trump has proven to be surprisingly adept at branding bad financial decisions as good ones. When he was hit repeatedly about his multiple bankruptcies in Republican debates, for instance, he owned them, saying that he just did what a good businessman does—take the best deal available. Some voters may find his willingness to engage in shady (or, as he would argue, creative) tactics more appealing than his extreme wealth. His argument is that he’s willing to bend the rules if it benefits him—and as president, he’ll bend rules if it benefits the country. It’s also an open question if American voters, most of whom haven’t seen a real wage increase in three decades, care about the difference between $4 billion and $10 billion.
More importantly though, these attacks overstate the appeal of Trump’s wealth. Trump won the Republican nomination, as The New Republic’s Elspeth Reeve argued last week, by saying he’d kick out Mexican immigrants and ban Muslims from coming in. Any attack that’s not based on Trump’s nationalism and nativism misses the point.