Donald Trump Is Right, for Once—Let’s Raise the Minimum Wage

The Washington Post did the world a favor when it made its Trump Hat generator.

This morning’s press conference was full of what you’d expect from Donald Trump Trump: a few points where he seemed scarily misinformed (he called John Hinkley Jr. “David Hinkley” and he seemed to confuse Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine with former New Jersey governor Tom Kean, a republican) and one point where he seemed to violate the law (when he called for Russia, “if you are listening,” to hack into Hillary Clinton’s email server. That last bit, naturally, got all the press—we have never before seen a presidential candidate publicly beg a foreign power to commit an act of espionage against the United States, so it’s big news. (As Ezra Klein argues convincingly at Vox, Trump has long since blown past any standards of normalcy or decency.)

But Trump also made news in another way this morning; in fact, if he hadn’t made history with his incredibly irresponsible Russia comments, perhaps he’d be leading the headlines with some good news for a change: he endorsed a $10 minimum wage. As CNN reports, Trump originally told Bill O’Reilly last night on Fox News that “You need to help people. I know it’s not very Republican to say.” When O’Reilly asked to what level he’d raise the minimum wage, Trump finally settled on ten: “’I would say 10. I would say 10,’ Trump agreed.” And at this morning’s press conference, he doubled down: “Trump said once again that the federal minimum wage should be raised to ‘at least $10’ but that ‘states should really call the shots.’”

Let’s be clear that the above quote makes no sense. You can’t raise the minimum wage to at least $10 and then vaguely insinuate that states could make the minimum wage lower than $10, because that flies in the face of what a federal minimum wage is. And in the recent past, Trump has also argued against having a federal minimum wage at all. As recently as November, he argued that American wages are too high and we have to leave the minimum wage “where it is” in order to compete with the world. So it must be said that he’s been wrong every step of the way on the minimum wage until now, and he could very easily be wrong on it again tomorrow.But let’s appreciate the fact that somehow, in the same press conference where he made one of the worst mistakes of his entire political career, Donald Trump actually acknowledged something good and useful: that the minimum wage has to go up. The last increase — from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour — happened way back in 2007. (Of course, Trump has the amount wrong. A $10 minimum wage would still be lower than when the minimum wage was at its peak in 1968, when adjusted for inflation.)

This is a significant moment in the fight for the $15 minimum wage: for the first time in at least 9 years, both political parties agree that the minimum wage needs to be substantially increased. The leader of the Republican Party has called for a federal minimum wage increase — and not a piddly quarter or two; he’s demanded “at least” an increase of $2.75. This is the first time this has happened since George W. Bush—Mitt Romney was against raising the wage when he was a presidential candidate in 2008 and 2012, though he now says Republicans are “nuts not to raise the minimum wage.”

Speaker Paul Ryan voted against raising the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour back in 2007. In fact, he’s voted against raising the wage at least ten times. Every Republican running for president in 2016 except for Rick Santorum opposed raising the minimum wage. Hell, Jeb Bush called to eliminate the federal minimum wage altogether, which is not an unusual position for someone in the Republican Party to hold nowadays.

In the last 24 hours, Trump changed the national conversation on the minimum wage. Raising the wage is no longer in question; the only question now is how high it should go. The prevailing $15 figure — the one approved by Seattle and California and New York and many other locations nationwide — isn’t even as high as the minimum wage would be right now had it been tied to productivity. Back in 2013, John Schmitt argued that if it had kept pace with productivity since 1968, “the minimum wage today would arguably be about $22 per hour,” and “if we use a more conservative measure of productivity growth suggested by my colleague Dean Baker, the minimum wage today would still be about $16 per hour.” In short, Republicans would be getting a bargain if they agreed to a $15 federal minimum wage.

Let’s be clear: Trump finally being right on the minimum wage does not make him a more credible candidate, or even a slightly more favorable candidate. His erratic behavior and hateful rhetoric disqualify him from the presidency. But despite all his disgusting positions and nonexistent policies, Trump is more reasonable than the rest of his party when it comes to the minimum wage. If I were Paul Ryan or Jeb Bush or some other high-profile Republican, I would take that fact and sit with it for a while.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.