One often overlooked facet of the divide facing the GOP in 2014 involves conservatives’ attitude about global warming. This is reflected not only in our possible presidential candidates but also in the electorate who will be voting for them.
A Pew Research Center poll from November of 2013 highlights this divide. Republicans are much more conflicted than are Democrats when it comes to global warming and the Democrats are aware of this. More concretely, 41% of Tea Party Republicans deny that global warming is happening at all. This contrasts sharply with the rest of the GOP: only 13% of non-Tea Party conservatives feel this way. In fact, of those conservatives who are not part of the Tea Party, 61% accept that there is solid evidence of global warming. Only 25% of Tea Partiers feel this way. Of the Tea Party Republicans who believe global warming is real, only 9% of them believe that humans are contributing to it. 32% of non-Tea Party Republicans believe this is so.
On the other hand, 84% of Democrats believe that global warming is real and 67% of them believe it is caused by human activity.
So what? The same Pew Research Center has informed us that global warming ranks dead last when it comes to issues that matter to voters. The issue in 2014, as always, is the economy. The economy is likely to remain the premier electoral issue in this country for two generations, or as long as it takes us to recover from the disaster of 2008.
The reason this matters is that in 2014 and beyond GOP candidates will be scrutinized not only by Democrats and liberal commentators but also by the respective wings of the Republican party: the Rovian establishment and the Tea Partiers.
The Tea Partiers will crucify any candidate such as Chris Christie who reeks of moderation concerning key ideological issues such as global warming. Like myself, Christie accepts that global warming is happening, but doesn’t attribute increased temperatures to human activity.
Do you doubt that Tea Party primary candidates in 2016 will fail to capitalize on this chink (one of many) in Christie’s armor? I can hear it now: Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, losing ground during a heated primary season, gives a press conference in which he enumerates Christie’s numerous liabilities and then concludes with a barbed jab at his rival: “And he believes in global warming.”
How many already lukewarm voters will stay home because their candidate has been tarred with the brush of believing in global warming, an issue they had all forgotten about until the Tea Party reminded them it mattered? How many older voters who are already looking for an excuse to sit out Election Day will now do so? How many working class voters, concerned that a Republican president who is moderate on the environment will make their employment situation even worse than it is, will do so? The guy is obviously some East Coast liberal nutjob.
Conversely, if by some miracle, my preferred candidate Rand Paul manages, like Hercules, to overcome the propaganda apparatus of the Chamber of Commerce and the rest of the GOP establishment and win the primary, the stentorian chorus will sound loudly and clearly not only from MSNBC but also from American Crossroads that this candidate, for all his rock star appeal, is not to be taken seriously because he doesn’t believe in global warming. This kind of attack, when it comes from Republicans, can be fatal in a general election.
How many voters will stay home because their candidate has been tarred with the brush of not believing in global warming? How many young voters will? How many moderate Republicans will? How many of those Republicans affected by Hurricane Sandy and other superstorms? Is this guy some kind of science-denying hick?
An issue as electorally unimportant as global warming can suddenly become preeminent in the minds of voters when millions of dollars is spent on television advertising to make it so.
The reason I mention all this is because unlike where other difficult issues like gun control are concerned, climate change really doesn’t matter to most voters. It will only matter if someone who is losing (Tea Partiers, moderate Republicans, Democrats) decides to make it an issue during the primaries or the general election, and this can only happen when we are vulnerable on the issue.
Here is my message to conservative candidates when it comes to global warming: shut up.
You have nothing to gain and everything to lose by holding forth about your opinions about climate change. Your friends don’t care what you are saying (it’s not an important electoral issue) but your enemies do – they will blow even your most innocent remark out of proportion so it seems like you are a lunatic and get your erstwhile supporters another reason to stay home on Election Day.
From now on, if anyone asks you how you feel about global warming, you tell them you don’t know. Maybe the planet is heating up, and maybe it’s not. And if it is, maybe this is due to human activity, and maybe it’s not. You’re waiting until the science is more conclusive to make up your open mind. And then you start talking about the economy. If pushed, you can say that if global warming is happening and it is caused by humans, it might make sense to have more legislation promoting carbon offsets and renewable energy, but until the science is in, that’s an economic risk you are unwilling to take. Better yet, just shut up.
Conservative candidates in the next two elections are going to have their hands full dealing with Obamacare, the economy, the NSA, gun control, immigration, foreign policy, and other issues that actually matter to voters. Don’t let your enemies persuade you to hoist yourself with your own petard. You are vulnerable enough as it is. Your party’s brand has been compromised by Goldwater extremists on the one hand and RINOs on the other.
It’s stupid to take a stand when there is less than nothing at stake.
Just shut up.
It’s amazing how much damage people can do to themselves by talking unnecessarily. Ask any criminal.
Repeat after me: I don’t know if global warming is real or not, but I know that it’s not an issue voters care about.
Thomas Davis – NEWSslinger Contributor