After a hellish week during which Ben Carson and his campaign attempted to prove the candidate’s honesty by assuring that he hadn’t shifted his personal narrative over the years, the former doctor began tonight’s GOP debate with yet another change of tune.
When the candidates were asked whether they supported current efforts to raise the minimum wage, known collectively as the “Fight for 15,” Carson said he unequivocally would not endorse these efforts.
“As far as the minimum wage is concerned, people need to be educated on the minimum wage,” Carson began in his opening salvo. “Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases. This is particularly a problem in the black community. Only 19.8 percent of black teenagers have a job, or are looking for one. And that’s because of those high wages. If you lower those wages, that comes down.”
That figure is hyperbolic, as the unemployment rate for black teens was 43 percent as recently as 2013. (That’s still high, but nowhere near the 80.2 percent unemployement rate that Carson cited.)
“I would not raise it,” Carson concluded on the minimum wage question, after sharing his oft-mentioned tale of his rise from poverty. “I would not raise it specifically because I'm interested in making sure that people are able to enter the job market and take advantage of opportunities.”
This is, at the very least, an evolution for Carson on the issue.
In May of this year, Carson said that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour was too low.
“I think, probably, it should be higher than now,” he said in an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood. At the time, this position made Carson an outlier among his opponents in the race, many of whom, including Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio, said they would not support a wage hike.
By September, Carson’s stance changed again.
During the second GOP debate, the political novice suggested that the minimum wage should abide by a two-tiered system. This plan would entail having a “starter” minimum wage for young people who would be willing to work for less money, and a sustained minimum wage that would respond to inflation.
“How are young people ever going to get a job if you have such a high minimum wage that it makes it impractical to hire them?” Carson asked at the time.
He urged negotiations with Democrats in order to “never have to have this again in the conversation in the history of America.”
Yet before his presidential campaign began, Carson had railed against the idea of raising the minimum wage, lambasting President Obama’s State of the Union in a 2014 op-ed for The Washington Times. “Many hope that through a simple declaration, the poor can be elevated to a higher social status,” Carson wrote. “Such people fail to realize that pay is associated with value—otherwise, we could just pay everybody $1 million a year and let everybody be rich.”
Carson's communications manager Doug Watts told The Daily Beast that his candidate's answer tonight was consistent with his previous statements.
"I think the question got off track," Watts emailed. "Dr. Carson has said and believes in a two-tier minimum wage. His answer focused on the lower tier, which he does not believe needs raising, as it is an entry-level wage. He believes in a second, higher tier that once determined, is indexed."
But even as the renowned former neurosurgeon tried to keep the debate topics away from his personal life, which has been under immense scrutiny as of late, moderator Neil Cavuto asked Carson about the vetting process and his perceived double standard with the attention President Obama received.
“Well, first of all, thank you not asking me what I said in the 10th grade. I appreciate that,” Carson said to uproarious laughter in the room.
“The fact of the matter is, we should vet all candidates,” Carson said. “I have no problem with being vetted. What I do have a problem with is being lied about. And then, putting that out there as truth,” Carson said, railing against the media to loud applause.
“And, I don't even mind that so much, if they do it with everybody, like people on the other side. But you know, when I look at somebody like Hillary Clinton, who sits there and tells her daughter and a government official that no, this was a terrorist attack, and then tells everybody else that it was a video, where I came from, they call that a lie.
“And,” he paused as the crowd erupted again, “I think that’s very different from, you know, somebody misinterpreting when I said that I was offered a scholarship to West Point. That is the word that they used. But, I have had many people come and say the same thing to me. That is what people do in those situations.”
“We have to start treating people the same,” Carson said. “And finding out what people really think and what they're made of.”
“People who know me know that I’m an honest person.”