2016 Repub­li­can can­di­dates turn cli­mate change into eco­nomic de­bate

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

The sec­ond Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial de­bate may have pro­vided a win­dow into how GOP can­di­dates will han­dle the thorny is­sue of cli­mate change, with a num­ber of White House hope­fuls skirt­ing a de­bate on the science of global warm­ing and in­stead tak­ing aim at the costs and con­se­quences of Pres­i­dent Obama’s pre­scrip­tion to save the planet — a strat­egy that some an­a­lysts say cedes the is­sue to Democrats.

Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Florida, Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walker, who sus­pended his cam­paign, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie each passed on the chance to dis­pute the science of cli­mate change Wed­nes­day in the sec­ond de­bate of the Repub­li­can pri­mary process. In­stead, the three men — each of whom trails busi­ness­man Don­ald Trump in the polls by a sig­nif­i­cant mar­gin — took di­rect aim at Mr. Obama’s am­bi­tious cli­mate agenda, which cen­ters on the first na­tion­wide lim­its on car­bon pol­lu­tion from power plants.

“We are not go­ing to de­stroy our econ­omy the way the left-wing gov­ern­ment we’re un­der now wants to do,” Mr. Ru­bio said af­ter be­ing asked about cli­mate change. “We are not go­ing to de­stroy our econ­omy. We are not go­ing to make Amer­ica a harder place to cre­ate jobs in or­der to pur­sue poli­cies that will do ab­so­lutely noth­ing to change our econ­omy, to change our cli­mate, to change our weather.”

Mr. Christie agreed, say­ing “mas­sive in­ter­ven­tion” from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment isn’t nec­es­sary to re­duce emis­sions. He pointed to his record in New Jersey and said the state was able to cut pol­lu­tion with­out be­ing forced by Washington to take dras­tic mea­sures.

Mr. Walker said the pres­i­dent’s plans would de­stroy “thou­sands of man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs” in Wis­con­sin, but passed on the chance to dis­cuss the science of cli­mate change it­self.

Other can­di­dates, such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, proudly cast them­selves as cli­mate change skep­tics, but the broader take­away was that many Repub­li­cans may avoid a fight with Democrats on global warm­ing and in­stead opt for de­bate on the best ways to ad­dress the is­sue.

Some Repub­li­can strate­gists say such a tack ul­ti­mately will prove in­ef­fec­tive and will force GOP can­di­dates into a cli­mate change de­bate on Demo­cratic terms.

“Repub­li­cans are go­ing to ar­gue that what [Democrats are] propos­ing is ridicu­lously costly and it’s not go­ing to do any­thing, which is good as far as it does,” said Michael McKenna, a Repub­li­can strate­gist and pres­i­dent of the lob­by­ing firm MWR Strate­gies. “The ir­re­duc­ible min­i­mum of the is­sue is once you yield on the science, all you’re talk­ing about is the terms of sur­ren­der. The smart folks see that. Most po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tives, not be­ing smart folks, don’t see that. You’re go­ing to have cam­paign op­er­a­tives say, ‘Let’s talk about eco­nom­ics.’”

Democrats seem in­tent on paint­ing all Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates with a broad brush and are rolling out a strat­egy of cast­ing the GOP as a party of science de­niers.

Sen. Bernard San­ders, a Ver­mont in­de­pen­dent run­ning for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, live-tweeted the de­bate and chal­lenged Repub­li­cans to ac­cept the science on cli­mate change.

Even af­ter the de­bate — and the seem­ingly mod­er­ate tack em­braced by Mr. Ru­bio, Mr. Walker and Mr. Christie — he con­tin­ued to go on the of­fen­sive.

“The de­bate is over. Cli­mate change is real and caused by hu­man ac­tiv­ity. It’s al­ready caus­ing dev­as­tat­ing prob­lems around the world,” he tweeted Fri­day night.

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial front-run­ner Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton and for­mer Mary­land Gov. Martin O’Malley also have ac­cused Repub­li­cans of re­ject­ing science on global warm­ing.

The is­sue will re­main in the spotlight this week when Mr. Obama meets with Pope Fran­cis, who ear­lier this year re­leased an un­prece­dented en­cycli­cal chal­leng­ing the U.S. and other coun­tries to take far more ag­gres­sive ac­tion against cli­mate change.

The pres­i­dent is look­ing at a key cli­mate change con­fer­ence in Paris in De­cem­ber where he hopes to emerge with a land­mark global deal to ad­dress car­bon and other emis­sions.

That con­fer­ence will be held a month be­fore the Iowa cau­cuses, the first nom­i­nat­ing con­tests for Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts say Repub­li­cans, while per­haps back­ing off their cri­tiques of the science of cli­mate change, still can ben­e­fit in the pri­mary race by op­pos­ing any real ac­tion.

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