Biden struck a noticeably more empathetic tone than the 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who said around half of Trump’s supporters could be put in a “basket of deplorables” and described them as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic”.
“Frankly, I’ve dealt with guys like Trump my whole life,” Biden said.
“Guys who look down on you because they’ve got a lot of money. Guys who think they’re better than you. Guys who inherited everything they ever got in life and then squandered it.
“Guys who do everything they can to avoid paying what they owe in taxes, because they figure the rest of us – the ‘little people’ – we can pick up the tab for the country.”
Trump’s appeal to the white working class – especially men – in former manufacturing centres was crucial to his shock victory in 2016.
Democrats received some criticism for focussing too much on themes such as gender and racial diversity at their convention last month rather than economic issues.
Bernie Sanders, Biden’s main rival for the Democratic nomination, has advised the Biden campaign to appeal more directly to working and middle class voters’ concerns about wages and the cost of prescription drugs.
Contrasting his upbringing with that of Trump, the son of a wealthy real estate developer, Biden said: “He sees the world from Park Avenue. I see the world from where I grew up: Scranton, Pennsylvania. A hard-scrabble, hard-working town just like this one and all across Wisconsin.”
He then attacked Trump for handing out a US$1.5 trillion “tax giveaway” to large corporations and the wealthy and for opposing a US$15 an hour minimum wage for America’s essential workers.
“The simple truth is that Donald Trump ran for office saying he would represent the forgotten men and women of this country – and then once in office, he forgot them,” Biden said.
“It’s not only that he forgot them, though. The truth is he never respected them.”
Biden referred to recent claims by Olivia Troye, an ex-Trump administration official, that Trump had said one upside of the pandemic was that he didn’t have to shake hands with the “disgusting people” that supported him.
“For Trump, these rallies are about entertainment and adoration – not respect,” Biden said.
Biden said he would be proud to be the first president in many years not to have attended a prestigious Ivy League university.
“I say it’s about time a state school president sat in the Oval Office,” Biden said. “Because you know what? If I’m sitting there, you will be too.”
Matthew Knott is North America correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.