Donald Trump is blunt about his primary qualification to be president: "I'm really rich!"
Yes, he is — and so are most of the other people running for the White House. All but four of the 22 prominent candidates across both parties are millionaires. The only non-millionaires are Senator Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, Senator Marco Rubio, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
And people with even more money than the candidates are bankrolling their campaigns. The New York Times reported that "fewer than 400 families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign, a concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era."
The Times found an especially astounding concentration of wealth among contributors to GOP campaigns. "Just 130 or so families and their businesses provided more than half the money raised through June by Republican candidates and their super PACs," the paper reported.
The Washington Post followed up with an editorial warning of an emerging "American oligarchy." The Post wrote that big donations from the super-rich have "the potential to warp the political system." In this sea of money, Trump still stands out. He is so rich that he doesn't need to raise money to run his campaign. He recently took to Twitter to slam Republican candidates for going to a conference held by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. He said the politicians who went to the event were guilty of begging for money.
Trump's derision drew lots of snickers, but his surprisingly successful campaign — built in part upon boasts about the power of big money — has traction with voters. Pew Research reported last December that the nation's rich now have a "median net worth that is nearly 70 times that of the country's lower-income families, [and there is now] also the widest wealth gap between these families in 30 years." The top 1 percent now controls more than 80 percent of the nation's wealth.
Sanders gets a rousing response when he states that the gap between the very rich and everyone else in America is wider today than at any time since the 1920s. Senator Elizabeth Warren has become a folk hero on the left by calling for more help for middle- and working-class families while pushing a crackdown on the rich — specifically, on Wall Street's risky but high-profit business ventures, which rely on government bailouts when they go sour.
But somehow the richest of the rich candidates leads the GOP race. Trump says his wealth is evidence of his ability to make deals and thus become "the greatest jobs president that God ever created." Trump offers no specifics about how he will produce those jobs.
Conversations with voters — right or left — deliver one consistent theme: Economic anxiety is high. But there is no consensus on how to level the playing field. Polls show most conservatives do not want government action — other than lowering taxes. Among Democrats, more than 90 percent tell Pew that they want government intervention, such as raising the minimum wage, but only 40 percent of Republicans agree. Hillary Clinton has endorsed a proposal to raise the minimum wage in New York. So has Sanders, who calls the current $7.25 federal minimum wage a "starvation wage." Trump and most of the GOP contenders oppose raising the minimum wage. They favor tax cuts, which they say would ignite growth.
Last year, President Obama proposed raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The Republican Congress blocked his effort. According to 2012 exit polls, voters with annual family incomes under $51,000 made up 41 percent of the electorate. They voted for President Obama by 22 percentage points over Republican Mitt Romney.
Today, most Americans polled say the economy is better than it was when President Obama came to office. Unemployment is down, and Wall Street profits are up to record levels. But wages are stagnant and median household income has not gone up for 20 years.
Meanwhile, loopholes and deductions taxes on the wealthy remain near historic lows, in part because of the extension of Bush-era tax cuts. And now the wealthy, under the new, more permissive campaign finance rules approved by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, are exerting more financial influence to mute any response to the populist impulse.
If politics is a mirror to the nation's soul, then Trump and his boastful billions are a true reflection of America.
Juan Williams is a Fox News political analyst.