This morning, Michele Bachmann confirmed on Good Morning America that she could support abolishing the Federal minimum wage. That’s an actual substantive position that offers a window into Bachmann’s ideology and worldview. But judging by the media chatter today, her John Wayne flub is still being widely viewed as far more newsworthy.
So I wanted to try to determine just how radical — and important and revealing — her position really is. It turns out that almost no GOP presidential candidates in history have held this position — not even Barry Goldwater, it seems. Ronald Reagan did support repeal early during the 1980 campaign, but even he subsequently downplayed and shifted his position.
All that is according to Michael Saltsman, a research fellow at a group called Employment Policies Institute, which supports doing away with the minimum wage.
“As far as I can see, the only major candidate who at one point supported a repeal of the minimum wage was Ronald Reagan,” says Saltsman, who graciously passed along his research. “Reagan favored elimination at one point, pointing to the policy’s unintended consequences.”
Saltsman adds that “Bachmann’s call to eliminate the minimum wage is unusual for recent elections.”
How unusual? Even Reagan backed off. Early on in the 1980 campaign against Jimmy Carter, he called for the minimum wage to be “eliminated.” But according to Associated Press articles at the time, Reagan, in a bid for traditionally Democratic union households, began playing down his call for repeal, only speaking out for his plan to lower the youth wage.
Richard Nixon, meanwhile, supported increasing the minimum wage, according to Saltsman, but not for employees 17 or younger.
What about arch-conservative Barry Goldwater?
In the early 1960s Goldwater opposed increasing the federal minimum wage as a Senator, according to clips from the time. But according to Saltsman’s research, when Goldwater ran for president in 1964, repeal was not a part of the party plank. (Saltman concedes repeal could be in campaign literature that he was unable to locate.)
By the way, President George W. Bush signed a minimum wage hike in May of 2007, as part of a broader Iraq War spending bill.
The bottom line is that even if calling for doing away with the minimum wage is not that far out of the GOP mainstream, as Laura Clawson points out, it is a very radical position for a GOP presidential candidate to take.
As it happens, one other 2012 GOP candidate is stepping forward to agree with Bachmann: Herman Cain, who told Think Progress: “I don’t think the current minimum wage is necessary.” Cain, of course, is not viewed as a credible candidate with any chance of winning. Unlike Bachmann.
Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman should all be asked whether they agree with Bachmann that doing away with the minimum wage should be on the table. Is it far fetched to imagine that this could become a 2012 litmus test issue in the GOP primary?
UPDATE: Dwight Eisenhower increased the minimum wage.
UPDATE II: To be clear, Saltsman thinks doing away with the minimum wage is good policy that is supported by research, and doesn’t view it as “radical,” which is my characterization. Saltsman was merely helping me with the history here.