Demonstrators prepare signs supporting the raising of the federal minimum wage during May Day demonstrations in New York on May 1, 2014.
Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Trump’s line on the minimum wage isn’t what it appears to be

Now that he’s wrapped up the fight for the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump is likely to start altering his message, at least a little. The presumptive GOP nominee, one of the nation’s least popular public figures, has to begin appealing to a broader national audience, which simply won’t happen if he remains the same candidate he’s been.
 
With this in mind, the Trump campaign is no doubt pleased to see reports like this one in the Washington Post.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said in television interviews broadcast Sunday that he would like an increase in the minimum wage and that it is best that such a change happen at the state level.
 
In the past, Trump has opposed upping the minimum wage. But in recent days, he has increasingly warmed to the idea.
Well, sort of. Part of the problem with reports like these is that Trump’s position, which is a bit of a garbled mess, isn’t quite what it appears to be.
 
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday, Trump told Chuck Todd, “I don’t know how people make it on $7.25.” Soon after, on ABC’s “This Week,” the Republican added, “I haven’t decided in terms of numbers, but I think people have to get more.”
 
And if that were the end of the story, then it would certainly seem as if Trump has moved to the left on the issue. Except it’s not the end of the story at all.
 
Let’s back up for a moment. 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.”
 
Last week, he kinda sorta amended that position, telling CNN he’s “open to doing something with” the minimum wage, though he didn’t say exactly what “something” might entail.
 
Which brings us to yesterday, when Trump seemed, at least at first blush, to be even more amenable to a possible increase. But pay particular attention to what Trump told Chuck Todd yesterday morning. From the NBC transcript:
TRUMP: …I would like to see an increase of some magnitude. But I’d rather leave it to the states. Let the states decide. Because don’t forget, the states have to compete with each other. So you may have a governor –
 
TODD: Right. You want the fed– but should the federal government set a floor, and then you let the states–
 
TRUMP: No, I’d rather have the states go out and do what they have to do. And the states compete with each other, not only other countries, but they compete with each other, Chuck. So I like the idea of let the states decide. But I think people should get more. I think they’re out there. They’re working. It is a very low number. You know, with what’s happened to the economy, with what’s happened to the cost. I mean, it’s just– I don’t know how you live on $7.25 an hour. But I would say let the states decide.
This may sound a little convoluted, but in practical terms, if Trump meant what he said, and he doesn’t even want the federal government to “set a floor” on a national minimum wage, then he’s effectively endorsing a system in which there’s a $0 federal minimum and every state would simply do their own thing.
 
I can appreciate why Trump’s precise position seems confusing. It’s a bit like the line from congressional Republicans on compensation discrimination against women: GOP lawmakers routinely make the case that they want women to make equal pay for equal work, but when asked to pass legislation to help ensure that outcome, they balk, deeming it an unnecessary burden on businesses. They like the idea of equal pay on a conceptual level, but Republicans oppose proposed solutions.
 
Trump’s approach to the minimum wage is similar. He thinks $7.25 an hour is too low for American workers, and he’s on board with the idea of people making more, but he doesn’t intend to actually do anything about it if elected. At least as of yesterday, there was no real ambiguity: a Trump White House would oppose raising the federal minimum wage. Indeed, the GOP candidate made the case for the federal minimum wage not existing at all.
 
It stands to reason Trump might try to shake the Etch A Sketch and move to the middle on some of the year’s top issues, but so far, when it comes to the minimum wage, he’s not budging.
 
 
 

Donald Trump and Minimum Wage

Trump's line on the minimum wage isn't what it appears to be