WASHINGTON -- Economics professor Dave Brat was thrown headfirst into the pressure cooker of national politics Wednesday, when he appeared on MSNBC and found himself unexpectedly grilled on his policy positions.
"I thought we were just going to chat today about the celebratory aspects," said Brat, who defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) Tuesday night in the state's 7th Congressional District GOP primary. It was a stunning political upset in a race that Cantor was expected to easily win.
"I love all the policy questions, I'm happy to do more, but I just wanted to talk about the victory ahead and I wanted to thank everybody that worked so hard on my campaign," added Brat, after fielding questions from MSNBC host Chuck Todd about the minimum wage, free trade and Syria. "I'm happy to take policy issues at any time. I just wanted to call out a thanks to everybody today."
Brat teaches at Randolph-Macon College, where his Democratic opponent, Jack Trammell, is also a professor. But despite his background in economics, Brat wasn't quite ready to answer whether he supported a federal minimum wage. It currently stands at $7.25 an hour, but Democrats have been pushing to raise it to $10.10. From his exchange with Todd:
TODD: Where are you on the minimum wage? Do you believe in it, and would you raise it?
BRAT: Minimum wage, no, I'm a free market guy. Our labor markets right now are already distorted from too many regulations. I think CATO estimates there's $2 trillion of regulatory problems and then throw Obamacare on top of that, the work hours is 30 hours a week. You can only hire 50 people. There's just distortion after distortion after distortion and we wonder why our labor markets are broken.
TODD: So should there be a minimum wage in your opinion?
BRAT: Say it again.
TODD: Should there be a minimum wage in your opinion?
BRAT: I don't have a well-crafted response on that one. All I know is if you take the long-run graph over 200 years of the wage rate, it cannot differ from your nation's productivity. Right? So you can't make up wage rates. Right? I would love for everyone in sub-Saharan Africa, for example -- children of God -- to make $100 an hour. I would love to just assert that that would be the case. But you can't assert that unless you raise their productivity, and then the wage follows.
TODD: Sounds like you're making a case against a federally mandated minimum wage.
BRAT: I'm just making the case I just made that you can't artificially make up wage rates, they have to be related to productivity.
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the federal minimum wage in the United States should actually be almost $22 an hour if it had kept up with increases in worker productivity.
Brat defeated Cantor, the second most powerful Republican in the House, despite being heavily outspent. It's the first time a sitting house majority leader has lost since the position was created in 1899. Polling in the days leading up to the primary had Cantor ahead, with the congressman's own internal polling showing him with a stunning 34-point lead.
While Cantor had the widespread backing of the establishment, Brat had the support of conservatives such as radio talk show host Laura Ingraham, who was chastising tea party groups for not doing more to help him during her show Wednesday morning.
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