I’ve written a few pieces on various aspects of raising the minimum wage. In the last month, I wrote a couple of pieces that are specific to the primary, highlighting the difference in approach between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, when it comes to raising the minimum wage.
Little did I know that Donald Trump would add to this debate. Indeed, this past week, he’s talked about the inadequacy of the current minimum and said he’s thinking about the best approach. He first discussed the topic in his interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN. Now, The Hill reports:
“I don’t know how people make it on $7.25 an hour. Now, with that being said, I would like to see an increase of some magnitude,”
What’s interesting here is that Trump is positioning himself to the left of Hillary Clinton on a number of issues and it appears that getting to a living wage is one of them.
Whatever one may believe about Trump’s intentions when it comes to jobs and the economy, it is patently clear that he understands the political import of a living wage as a platform issue from which to gain working and middle class Republicans and Democratic voters. There is no question that he has identified this as a prime target for siphoning off Sanders voters, should Senator Sanders not win the nomination. It is just as clear that Trump understands very well where Hillary Clinton has positioned herself on the minimum wage and he is willing to go against traditional Republican orthodoxy on this and adopt both the Clintonian deference to “States’ Rights,” and Sanders’ insistence, not only on a minimum wage that is higher than what is in the law, but that is no less than $15 an hour. For now, Trump is unwilling to commit to $15 at the federal level, but he does support it and states his preference is for the states to enact it. This is the farthest left any Republican candidate has ever gone on a living wage. Again, one can question Trump’s veracity on this. One can question Clinton’s veracity on this even more. Who among you remembers her last debate performance on jobs and the minimum wage? Watching her lawyerly two-step as she was being pressed both by the moderator and Sanders:
As much as I hate to write this, to many a jaded working class Democratic and independent voter, Trump may well sound more convincing than Hillary Clinton when he talks about the minimum wage. How? He starts out by saying right out that the current minimum is not a sustaining wage and that he wants more for workers. That kind of forthright language has yet to pass Hillary Clinton’s lips. Whether he really is, or not, Trump sounds sincere and he doesn’t dance around the issues. Clinton has been somewhat disingenuous in her approach and it will come back to bite, not so much in what more Trump can offer, but in the amount of trust a significant number of voters will be willing to place in her, when it comes to trade, jobs, and pay.
Trump has made no bones of his intent to woo Senator Sanders’ voters. In his essay, “The year of the hated,” Dave Weigel writes:
“If the rise of Trump has no obvious precedent, neither does an election like this. Clinton, whose buoyant favorable ratings in the State Department convinced some Democrats that she could win easily, is now viewed as unfavorably as George W. Bush was in his close 2004 reelection bid. Trump is even less liked, with negative ratings among nonwhite voters not seen since the 1964 campaign of Barry Goldwater.
“In the history of polling, we’ve basically never had a candidate viewed negatively by half of the electorate,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) wrote in a widely shared note that asked someone, anyone, to mount a third-party run. “There are dumpster fires in my town more popular than these two ‘leaders.’ ”
According to RealClearPolitics averages, Trump has an unfavorable rating of 65 percent. Clinton has 55 percent.””
The difference between Clinton and Trump is that Clinton has a record as a politician, whereas Trump has none. He has the advantage of having a clean political slate, and Clinton the disadvantage of years of “evolving” and having thrown her full support behind her husband’s economic policies as a full partner in his presidency.
Donald Trump has run against NAFTA and bringing jobs back, during this entire campaign. That, for the most part, is what attracts white working and middle class voters to Trump. As much as the media is trumpeting the racist element among his following, not that it doesn’t exist or isn’t prominent (it truly is) – the primary concern of voters is the economy. That concern is strong across the parties and, among Republicans, it translates into a rebellion against the GOP establishment. The rank and file is no longer buying what the establishment is selling, and the GOP was imploding even before Trump announced his candidacy a year ago.
Now, as the GOP leadership is grappling with the start of the Trump era, a meeting with Speaker Paul Ryan was arranged for Monday, May 9th. That meeting should set the pace for an interesting few months. How will Ryan and McConnell fall in line behind Trump and his unorthodox but popular ideas? Democrats have been pushing on the minimum wage, off and on. Will they now seize the opportunity to push some more? Can Ryan publicly refuse to budge on pay in such a crucial election cycle?
What about Clinton’s relevance on this matter? The position she’s boxed herself in doesn’t distinguish her enough from Trump, and when compared to Sanders, reinforces her long neoliberal record, both on the wage she is willing to push for, and the fact that she’s willing to leave it up to individual states, knowing that virtually all the red states will decline to raise their wages above the federal minimum. Add to that the generally negative perception of trade agreements by the working class, and how likely is it that there will be defections? As it is, in Alabama and other states, state legislatures are busy undoing what local municipalities have done to raise the minimum wage within their jurisdictions, proving Bernie Sanders’ point that the national wage needs to be raised so everyone benefits from it. Is Clinton capable of coming up with a convincing case on trade, reversing inversions and fighting for a living wage?
She hasn’t thus far… It is becoming clearer that Donald Trump will not allow Clinton to pivot back to the center. As it is, whether or not to do it came with the risk of alienating a good portion of a party that has veered sharp left. What will Clinton attract independent and moderate Republicans with? Will a Clinton win depend only on the fear of Trump? Once Trump assumes his “presidential persona,” will fear alone do the job?
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Full CNN Debate, April 15, 2016