Republicans Are Talking Differently About Climate Change

A suddenly more nuanced position speaks to the party’s belief in the issue’s coming potency.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 13: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during a National Press Club Newsmaker Luncheon May 13, 2014 in Washington, DC. Sen. Rubio delivered a policy speech on social security and answered questions during the luncheon. 
National Journal
Alex Roarty
June 18, 2014, 5:46 p.m.

These days, it takes care­ful pars­ing to pin­point what Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates be­lieve about cli­mate change.

The GOP’s Sen­ate can­did­ate in Michigan, Terri Lynn Land, is­sued a press re­lease last month that de­clared glob­al warm­ing was “ab­so­lutely” a real­ity. Such an ac­know­ledg­ment, on its face, would once have amoun­ted prac­tic­ally to heresy for a party hos­tile to the sci­ence of cli­mate change. But lest any­one be­gin to con­fuse her with Bill Nye the Sci­ence Guy, her cam­paign’s spokes­wo­man quickly emailed a fol­low-up state­ment: Al­though Land thinks the Earth’s cli­mate is chan­ging partly as a con­sequence of hu­man be­ha­vi­or, she’s du­bi­ous about the de­gree to which hu­man­kind is re­spons­ible.

To a cli­mate sci­ent­ist, that’s a bit like watch­ing a golfer line up a per­fect putt, only to see the ball un­ex­pec­tedly lip out of the hole at the last mo­ment. But as the dust settles on Pres­id­ent Obama’s pro­pos­al to cut car­bon emis­sions, her al­most-but-not-quite em­brace of cli­mate-change sci­ence is in­dic­at­ive of a broad­er shift with­in the Re­pub­lic­an Party — one that has shucked the de­fi­ant skep­ti­cism of its re­cent past for a nu­anced view on the sub­ject.

Cer­tainly, base-wary Re­pub­lic­ans haven’t gone all-in yet. Their ad­just­ment, however, is no ac­ci­dent: While the sci­ence it­self is largely the same, the polit­ics of its le­git­im­acy has turned against Re­pub­lic­ans in all but the red­dest of states. It’s a sep­ar­ate de­bate from the eco­nom­ic-fo­cused one about the po­ten­tial loss of jobs from the reg­u­la­tions — one Re­pub­lic­ans are con­vinced they’ll win — but it’s non­ethe­less an is­sue rear­ing its head in the midterm elec­tions.

“I don’t think it would be wise for a Re­pub­lic­an to shut the door on a dis­cus­sion of cli­mate change,” said Dick Wadhams, a Col­or­ado-based GOP strategist. “But I do think it’s sens­ible for a Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate to ex­press skep­ti­cism about this head­long rush … a lot of Demo­crats seem to be hav­ing to kill the coal in­dustry.”

Wit­ness Marco Ru­bio, who like Land sim­il­arly ar­gued that the cli­mate is chan­ging but doubted wheth­er hu­mans are the main cul­prit. Thom Tillis and Joni Ernst, two Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate can­did­ates in purple-hued North Car­o­lina and Iowa, re­spect­ively, have also ex­pressed views in shades of gray. Rick Scott, the Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor of Flor­ida, has star­ted say­ing that he’s “not a sci­ent­ist.”

And that’s when Re­pub­lic­ans talk about the sci­ence at all: Many, such as Ed Gillespie in Vir­gin­ia or Cory Gard­ner in Col­or­ado, opt against say­ing any­thing all, in­stead keep­ing their fo­cus trained squarely on the ef­fect reg­u­la­tions will have on jobs and elec­tri­city bills.

It wasn’t al­ways this way. As re­cently as 2009, Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers such as then-House Minor­ity Lead­er John Boehner were pub­licly mock­ing cli­mate-change sci­ence. Ap­pear­ing on ABC News’s This Week, Boehner said the no­tion that car­bon di­ox­ide was a car­ci­no­gen was “al­most com­ic­al.”

“Every time we ex­hale, we ex­hale car­bon di­ox­ide,” he said. “Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you’ve got more car­bon di­ox­ide.”

In many in­stances, Re­pub­lic­ans avoided talk­ing about the is­sue at all (some­times go­ing to great lengths to avoid do­ing so). It’s not that Re­pub­lic­ans have al­ways out­right re­jec­ted cli­mate-change sci­ence; be­fore the tea-party wave of 2010, the GOP had largely em­braced not only the sci­ence but some meas­ure of poli­cy­mak­ing to com­bat it. But with the rise of the ul­tracon­ser­vat­ive base, the fail­ure of the Demo­crats’ cap-and-trade le­gis­la­tion, and sub­sequent deep un­pop­ular­ity of that pro­pos­al, Re­pub­lic­an at­ti­tudes changed.

“In the af­ter­math of that, no one had to be care­ful,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a prom­in­ent Re­pub­lic­an eco­nom­ist and out­spoken ad­voc­ate about the threat posed by cli­mate change (who op­poses the pres­id­ent’s EPA rules). “You could just lam­baste everything as­so­ci­ated with it.”

Now they do. Nearly six in 10 Amer­ic­ans think hu­man activ­it­ies are mainly to blame for the rise in glob­al tem­per­at­ures, ac­cord­ing to a Gal­lup Poll from March. And des­pite the party’s long­stand­ing skep­ti­cism about cli­mate change, 41 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans say the same.

But more im­port­ant than how many voters it reaches is which voters it reaches. The re­jec­tion of cli­mate-change sci­ence — and the po­ten­tial to con­sequently be labeled as anti-all sci­ence — risks ali­en­at­ing the crit­ic­al bloc of mod­er­ate and even GOP-lean­ing voters. “There’s a slice of mod­er­ate and lib­er­al Re­pub­lic­ans, part col­lege-edu­cated, part wo­men, part un­der-50, where there is an op­por­tun­ity for Demo­crats to get a lot more of those voters than they nor­mally would,” said An­drew Bau­mann, a Demo­crat­ic poll­ster who works with en­vir­on­ment­al groups.

Cli­mate change won’t single-handedly change minds, not by a long shot. Few in­di­vidu­al is­sues do. But it’s one of a mélange of top­ics — among them im­mig­ra­tion re­form, gun con­trol, and abor­tion rights — that Demo­crats can use to win over the bloc of af­flu­ent sub­urb­an mod­er­ates, a kind of death-by-a-thou­sand-cuts strategy. It’s the same group of voters who also pop­u­late a lot of crit­ic­al 2014 swing areas, such as the North­ern Vir­gin­ia or the Den­ver sub­urbs.

Des­pite the com­pel­ling polling on the is­sue, Re­pub­lic­an strategists say it’s one that’s eas­ily nav­ig­able by tal­en­ted can­did­ates. A de­bate about sci­ence isn’t good for the party, but it doesn’t have to be, they say, ar­guing that the fo­cus on EPA’s car­bon reg­u­la­tions and the po­ten­tial job losses that res­ult steers the de­bate to­ward far firmer ground for the GOP.

Be­sides, voters still rank com­bat­ing cli­mate change near the bot­tom of their list of pri­or­it­ies.

“The ques­tion is, is cli­mate change go­ing to be on the menu of what’s driv­ing voters in North Car­o­lina?” said Paul Shu­maker, a North Car­o­lina-based GOP strategist who works for Tillis, the party’s Sen­ate nom­in­ee. “How many people in North Car­o­lina are be­ing dir­ectly im­pacted by it now?”

Ac­cord­ing to sci­ence, all of them.

What We're Following See More »
BACKING OUT ON BERNIE
Trump Won’t Debate Sanders After All
2 days ago
THE LATEST

Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

AKNOWLEDGING THE INEVITABLE
UAW: Time to Unite Behind Hillary
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.

Source:
AP KEEPING COUNT
Trump Clinches Enough Delegates for the Nomination
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."

Source:
TRUMP FLOATED IDEA ON JIMMY KIMMEL’S SHOW
Trump/Sanders Debate Before California Primary?
3 days ago
THE LATEST
CAMPAIGNS INJECTED NEW AD MONEY
California: It’s Not Over Yet
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"Clinton and Bernie Sanders "are now devoting additional money to television advertising. A day after Sanders announced a new ad buy of less than $2 million in the state, Clinton announced her own television campaign. Ads featuring actor Morgan Freeman as well as labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta will air beginning on Fridayin Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles media markets. Some ads will also target Latino voters and Asian American voters. The total value of the buy is about six figures according to the Clinton campaign." Meanwhile, a new poll shows Sanders within the margin of error, trailing Clinton 44%-46%.

Source:
×