Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, to the surprise of many, said recently that he supports increasing the minimum wage to keep up with the rising cost of living. That's news since 2008 presidential candidate Romney was decidedly, well, undecided about automatic increases in the minimum wage. "You know, I haven't looked at the federal minimum-wage process," Romney told ABC News just days before the first federal minimum wage increase in a decade. "I'll look at that. I don't have a -- I haven't taken a position on that at this stage."
Back in 2002, gubernatorial candidate Romney said he supported increasing the minimum wage and indexing it to keep up with inflation. His campaign website posted a "message to union members" touting his "worker-friendly position."
But then Governor Romney in 2006 vetoed an increase in the minimum wage, saying "there's no question raising the minimum wage excessively causes a loss of jobs."
Is Romney's latest position in support of raising the minimum wage more flip-flopping or a genuine crack in the conservative consensus?
The other remaining and former GOP candidates embrace the standard conservative, pro-corporate agenda. Ron Paul would abolish the minimum wage altogether. Bachmann would have also. Gingrich opposes the minimum wage and supports child labor. Perry thought it was unconstitutional. Herman Cain made a career out of opposing minimum wages as head of the National Restaurant Association.
Republicans and industry lobbies have remained a united front against the minimum wage since it was first established by the Fair Labor Standards Act signed by FDR in 1938.
The National Association of Manufacturers condemned FDR's proposed minimum wage law as "a step in the direction of Communism, Bolshevism, Fascism, and Nazism."
Ronald Reagan campaigned for president in 1980 saying "the minimum wage has caused more misery and unemployment than anything since the Great Depression."
Conservative columnist George Will wrote in 2007 that the "minimum wage should be the same everywhere: $0. Labor is a commodity; governments make messes when they decree commodities' prices."
Yet Mitt Romney, the presumed GOP presidential frontrunner, has broken ranks and come out in support of raising the minimum wage. The position breaks from Republican orthodoxy and puts him closer to President Obama, who in 2008 campaigned to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 and then index it to inflation.
It's all the more surprising given Romney's allegiance to unbridled free-market, anti-government conservatism posted on his presidential campaign's website. It proclaims that "Mitt Romney will rebuild the foundations of the American economy on the principles of free enterprise, hard work, and innovation," code for the type of deregulation that unleashed the Great Recession. It says he'll increase "labor flexibility," code for eliminating government rules and unions that give workers a chance in an economy that increasingly favors the rich and leaves the rest behind. Unions, according to the Romney agenda, are stifling economic growth and American prosperity.
Perhaps Romney, now known for his "flexible" and politically expedient views, has been advised that support for raising the minimum wage might help get him elected. Minimum wage laws are popular and are supported by majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans. Voters don't buy the fear-mongering 'job killer' rhetoric or believe that the free market will solve all ills. They know that corporations have been cutting wages while padding profits, leaving families out in the cold.
If Romney wins the South Carolina primary, then we can expect his handlers to try to paint him as a moderate politician that, despite his wealth, low tax rate and job-crushing experience at Bain Capital, feigns to understand the struggles of working people.
Romney's latest flip-flop may very well mean that the commitment of the business lobby and Republican Party to the ideological free-market consensus cannot hold up in the face of struggling American families looking for real answers to their economic troubles.