He said it last night during the debate, then he said it again this morning on MSNBC — both times in the context of a question about the minimum wage, it should be noted, although I think he’s talking about all wages here. His point is about global competition: If you want to sell goods more cheaply than China, you’re going to have to cut labor costs as part of that. Cutting the wages of the least-skilled workers while letting everyone else’s rise won’t solve that problem by itself.
Watching him give this answer reminded me of Dave Weigel’s interview with a bunch of Trump supporters in Michigan in mid-August, an effort to piece out what was driving Trumpmania. Was it Trump’s alpha-male bravado? Sort of. Was it his immigration policy? That certainly figured in. The broader theme, though, was that Trump’s blue-collar fans took his pledge to “make America great again” as a de facto pledge to make American jobs, specifically, great again. Protectionism under President Trump would repatriate jobs that had been outsourced and give American workers a wage that would help them thrive. Now here’s Trump suddenly warning that if we’re going to beat the Chinese, workers will actually have to tighten their belts — and he’s saying this on camera, twice, in high-profile television formats. In full view of the Democrats’ oppo research people.
Josh Kraushaar wonders what happens now:
Trump’s political base is dominated by working-class voters who have been devastated by the recession and subsequent slow recovery. Many of them are drawn to Trump because they believe his tough persona and negotiating prowess will reverse America’s economic decline—and with it, raise their own wages. Trump is running against the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party, but with his affinity for low corporate wages, he pitted himself against many of the populists he’s wooing.
“If you find somebody who can move the Trump image, from billionaire mogul with swagger and morph him into a heartless CEO jerk, this is a different race,” said Republican media consultant Rick Wilson. “But are his voters going to be more receptive to his argument on immigration than they are on wages. That’s the big question.”
“Our wages are too high” is something you can (unfortunately) easily imagine coming out of Romney’s mouth circa summer 2012, not Trump’s in 2015. Higher wages is a core reason why his immigration policy is so popular too — kick the illegals out and you eliminate competition from cut-rate off-the-books labor, ensuring a higher wage for citizens. Now here he is suggesting that economic relief from the middle-class crunch might not be what people are expecting even if we do deport all 11 million. What is he thinking? Maybe he thinks workers will let him slide since he’s calling for lower taxes too, i.e. giving them a “raise” by letting them keep more of what they’re already taking home. Or maybe we’ve reached the point where he’s so confident in his own invulnerability, having shrugged off one supposedly fatal gaffe after another this year, that he figures this won’t be held against him. That’s some bet now that we’re less than three months from Iowa and the attack-ad machines are revving up.
Here’s the bit from the debate followed by his “Morning Joe” appearance this a.m. Skip to 7:00 in the second clip for the bit about jobs and wages.