Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump came out swinging in Tuesday’s presidential debate, starting the night by telling the audience that he could not, in good conscience, advocate raising the minimum wage.
Fox Business Network moderator Neil Cavuto asked Trump if he could sympathize with the thousands of protestors across the country who are demanding the minimum wage be raised to $15 an hour. Cavuto noted that a $15 wage “works out to about $31,000 a year.”
Trump said he could not.
“Taxes too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world,” Trump said. “I hate to say it, but we have to leave [the minimum wage] the way it is.”
Here’s the full, rough transcript:
NEIL CAVUTO: Candidates, as we gather tonight … just outside, and across the country, picketers are gathering as well. They’re demanding an immediate hike in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Just a few hours ago, New York governor Andrew Cuomo proposed doing the same for all state workers, the first governor to do so.
Mr. Trump, as the leading presidential candidate on this stage and one whose tax plan exempts couples making up to $50,000 a year from paying any federal income taxes at all, are you sympathetic to the protesters cause since a $15 wage works out to about $31,000 a year?
DONALD TRUMP: I can’t be, Neil. And the reason I can’t be we is [that] we are a country that is being beaten on every front economically, militarily. There is nothing that we do now to win. We don’t win anymore. Our taxes are too high. I’ve come up with a tax plan that many, many people like very much. It’s going to be a tremendous plan. I think it will make our country and our economy very dynamic. But, taxes too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world. I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is. People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratosphere. We can not do this if we are going to compete with the rest of the world. We just can’t do it. ‘
CAVUTO: [So you’re saying] do not raise the minimum wage?
TRUMP: I would not do it.
Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who is tied with Trump for frontrunner status, also said on Tuesday that he would not raise the minimum wage if elected president.