Hillary Clinton is launching a concerted effort to pull that image apart, beginning with highlighting quotes from 2006 and 2007 where the real estate mogul speculated he could cash in on a housing market crash. The message is simple: Trump is pretending to be a defender of middle class Americans when in fact, he has sought to personally benefit from their losses.
In an audiobook produced
for Trump University 10 years ago, Trump, asked about predictions of a forthcoming housing market crash, responded: "I sort of hope that happens because then, people like me would go in and buy."
Trump added: "If there is a bubble burst, as they call it, you know you can make a lot of money."
At a campaign rally Tuesday, Clinton accused Trump of wishing for a financial crash so that he could "make some money for himself."
"He said 'I sort of hope that happens.' He actually said that," Clinton said. "And now he says he wants to roll back the financial regulations that we have imposed on Wall Street to let them run wild again. Well I will tell you what -- you and I together, we're not going to let him."
The attacks recall the 2012 election, where President Barack Obama and Democrats relentlessly went after GOP nominee Mitt Romney's work in private equity. Obama and his surrogates sought to paint Romney as a wealthy and out-of-touch businessman who struck profitable business deals even at the expense of middle class jobs.
At a rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tuesday night, Trump slammed Clinton for her campaign's online video hitting the presumptive Republican nominee on the quotes.
"Yeah, if it goes down I'm gonna buy," Trump said. "I'm a businessman, that's what I'm supposed to do."
"If it goes down it goes down. I feel badly for everybody. What am I going to do? It's business!" Trump added.
Earlier, in a statement, he defended his business record.
"I am a businessman and I have made a lot of money in down markets, in some cases as much as I've made when markets are good," Trump said. "Frankly, this is the kind of thinking our country needs -- understanding how to get a good result out of a very bad and sad situation. Politicians have no idea how to do this -- they don't have a clue. I will create jobs, bring back companies and not make it easy for companies to leave. If they do, they will fully understand that there will be consequences. Our jobs market will flourish."
The housing market crashed in 2008, setting off a devastating financial crisis that wrecked the livelihoods of millions of Americans. Years later, plenty of voters across the country feel that they never fully recovered, and have flocked to anti-establishment, populist candidates like Trump and Sanders this year.
With the general election still more than five months away, the Clinton campaign is testing out a range of political attacks against Trump including on his controversial rhetoric and his foreign policy views. Last week, Clinton questioned Trump's eligibility to be president, telling CNN's Chris Cuomo: "He is not qualified to be president of the United States."
Trump managed to maintain his popularity throughout the campaign despite making public statements that would have seriously damaged most other politicians. Trump has referred to some Mexicans coming into the United States as criminals and rapists; mocked Sen. John McCain's captivity in the Vietnam War, saying: "I like people that weren't captured"; and made questionable comments about women including then-presidential candidate Carly Fiorina and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.
The housing crisis quotes are an attack Clinton's campaign hopes can work in swing states such as Florida, Ohio and Nevada. Multiple members unleashed their criticism on the House floor on Tuesday.
Nevada Rep. Dina Titus lamented the devastation in Las Vegas after the housing crash, and had this to say to the presumptive GOP nominee: "Keep your short fingers out of the Nevada housing market."
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan also weighed in, saying, "Shame on you, Mr. Trump. You are supposed to be rooting for the American people not rooting against them."
Clinton's surrogates will continue going after Trump on the issue in six battleground states through a series of press calls, statements and events, according to campaign aides. The campaign also highlighted a 2007 interview in which Trump said he was "excited" at the prospect of soft real estate markets. "People have been talking about the end of the cycle for 12 years, and I'm excited if it is," he told the Toronto Globe and Mail
. "I've always made more money in bad markets than in good markets."
In a call with reporters Tuesday, Tampa, Florida, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Trump's comments were "shameful" and "disqualifying."
"I don't know how you make America great again when you root for it to fail so you can make a quick buck," Buckhorn said.
The Democratic National Committee also jumped on the newly surfaced remarks from Trump on the housing market. In a press release accusing Trump of having "cheered on" the collapse of the housing market, the DNC noted that the crash was devastating to minorities like Hispanics and African-Americans.
"Donald Trump's lack of concern for the economic well-being of hard-working families shows that he doesn't have the judgment and temperament to occupy the Oval Office," wrote DNC spokesperson Luis Miranda.