No, not exactly, despite what CNN and The Hill reported last night. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer challenged Donald Trump in an interview yesterday about Trump’s claim that he would attract many of Bernie Sanders’ supporters in a general election by focusing on the minimum-wage hike promised by both Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Trump has promised an economy where working Americans can make a living wage, and Blitzer says that the current $7.25 an hour minimum falls short of that. Would Trump come out in favor of a minimum-wage hike?
“I’m looking at that, I’m very different from most Republicans,” Trump responds at first, but the full answer is more complex than the Hill’s “reversal” meme suggests:
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) May 4, 2016
In a reversal, Donald Trump expressed openness to raising the federal minimum wage during an interview on Wednesday.
“I’m looking at that, I’m very different from most Republicans,” the presumptive GOP presidential nominee told CNN Wednesday about the prospect of increasing wages.
“You have to have something you can live on. But what I ‘m really looking to do is get people great jobs so they make much more money than that, much more money than the $15.”
I’m looking at that in the Trump lexicon is mainly meaningless. Trump has been, if anything, tougher on the minimum wage than “most Republicans,” probably because he understands the economics of it better. As The Hill recalls, Trump even argued last November that wages in the US had risen too high, one of the reasons why American manufacturing couldn’t compete in the globalized market.
Trump’s main argument here is that the minimum wage should be irrelevant. What Trump argues here is not a raise for the minimum wage, but an economic policy that lifts all boats and raises wages organically, not through government intervention. Starting wages should only last a short period of time, and in a properly functioning economy, a minimum might not even come into play. While Trump doesn’t articulate this argument, a debate over a government-mandated starting wage demonstrates the futility of central planning. It’s a fight over scarcity, not a policy that encourages broad success and production.
When Trump gets cornered in these kinds of interviews, he has a tendency to throw out a sop to the interviewer and then change the terms of the argument. Undoubtedly this comes from his experience in negotiating deals, bringing someone into his context by offering a terse acknowledgment of the other’s. That said, Trump might feel some pressure to change on the minimum wage down the line as he tries to absorb the Bernie Sanders populists in the general election. It bears watching, but this ain’t it.