Reading Charles C. W. Cooke’s post on the use of H-2B visas by Donald Trump’s companies, I’m reminded of similar accusations of hypocrisy made against Trump in terms of trade policy. Much of the Trump clothing brand is made abroad, so some have hit him as a hypocrite for railing against various trade deals while his companies have potentially profited from these trade deals. Trump has deflected those accusations with the claim that his company is simply responding to current government policies and the incentives set up by those policies. His argument on trade is that our existing trade policies encourage manufacturers go to abroad; he proposes changing those policies so that different incentives are in place (whether or not one thinks his proposed changes are a good idea is a separate issue).
Trump might make a similar statement regarding H-2B visas: His company is playing by the rules and responding to government incentives. Through the nation’s guest-worker programs (including the H-1B and H-2B), national policy-makers have chosen to give employers access to a special, market-distorting labor pool. On immigration, he has called for changing those incentives.
Still, even if the hypocrisy charge might be a bit muddled, Trump’s rivals could still try to attack him on this issue. However, that task will be harder if these rivals themselves support guest-worker programs in their current state and, especially, if they support expanding them. Many proponents of guest-worker programs argue that such programs do not hurt the American worker and are good for economic growth as a whole. Thus, when attacking Trump for using guest workers, a supporter of guest-worker programs finds himself in an odd position: Mr. Trump, you’re such a hypocrite for hiring guest workers instead of Americans — but no big deal because you actually helped the American economy grow and ended up not displacing any American workers at all.
That argument falls even flatter if someone supports the expansion of guest-worker programs: Mr. Trump, you’re such a hypocrite for hiring guest workers instead of Americans. When I’m president, it will be a top priority to make it even easier for employers to do what you just did.
The H-2B issue provides another point of evidence to suggest that Trump’s opponents will have a hard time displacing the front-runner if they run away from opportunity-oriented policy reform.