A couple of months ago, there was a flurry of reports about Donald Trump running on economic populism, none of which was quite right. Some reporters, no doubt confused by the Republican’s clumsy rhetoric, policy incoherence, and propensity for dishonesty, seemed to misunderstand Trump’s far-right economic message.
And at the center of this confusion was Trump’s indiscernible position on the minimum wage. Last night, the Republican presidential nominee talked to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who asked about the issue, and the exchange that followed left everyone more confused than before.
The GOP candidate began by stressing, “I’m the one Republican that said in some cases we have to go more than minimum wage – but what I like is states.” That’s roughly in line with what Trump has said before: he opposes an increase to the federal minimum, but he’s on board with states raising their minimums if they want to. He added last night:
“Let me give you a concept because I think it’s a good concept. You go with the states - let the states make the determination because if you take New York it’s very expensive to live in New York, they need more than you know seven, eight, nine dollars. So you go with the states and let the states make the determination.”
Again, note the emphasis on states. While Democrats push for an increase to the federal minimum, Trump is talking solely about states doing their own thing on wages.
When O’Reilly noted “there has to be a federal minimum wage,” Trump replied, “There doesn’t have to be.” Again, this too is consistent with the Republican candidate’s previous arguments that the federal minimum wage may not need to exist at all.
Trump then added, “I would leave it and raise it somewhat.” I haven’t the foggiest idea what this means. Vowing to change and not change the same policy in the same sentence is the kind of incoherence that reasonable people should find alarming.
When the Fox host pressed him on what the dollar amount should be for a minimum wage, Trump replied, “I would say $10,” though he added moments later, “But the thing is Bill, let the states make the deal.”
This has led to a variety of reports about Trump endorsing an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10 an hour. But given the circumstances, I’d suggest taking those reports with a grain of salt.
Indeed, let’s circle back to some of our previous coverage. Trump’s original position, as articulated during one of the debates for the GOP presidential candidates last fall, was that he opposed a wage hike. Asked about his position on the minimum wage, Trump specifically said, “I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is. People have to go out, they have to work really hard, and they have to get into that upper stratum. But we cannot do this if we are going to compete with the rest of the world, we just can’t do it.”
As part of the same debate response, he added at the time that wages are “too high.” Trump clarified after the debate, “We were talking about the minimum wage, and they said, ‘Should we increase the minimum wage?’ And I’m saying that if we’re going to compete with other countries we can’t do that because the wages would be too high.”
In May, just a couple of months ago, NBC’s Chuck Todd asked about the federal minimum wage setting a floor and then allowing for state experimentation. Trump replied, “No, I’d rather have the states go out and do what they have to do. “
I’ll gladly concede that Trump’s actual position seems garbled, but there are some basic elements to the debate on which he’s been consistent: (1) Trump, like congressional Republicans, does not support an increase to the federal minimum wage; (2) Trump is not convinced the federal minimum wage needs to exist at all; and (3) Trump wants states to do their own thing.
Polls show broad public support for a minimum-wage hike, so stories that say Trump is breaking with his party and endorsing a $10 minimum stand to help him enormously. But looking at the details, those stories may not be entirely accurate.