The Coming Climate Clawback

In a story about how every Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted against an amendment acknowledging that climate change is real, TPM reminded us about this Politico article highlighting a problem the 2012 GOP contenders are going to have:

It may be heresy to conservatives, but a trip down memory lane shows nearly all of the top-tier Republican presidential contenders want to save the planet from global warming.

On the campaign stump, in books, speeches and nationally-televised commercials, aspiring GOP White House candidates such as Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney have warned in recent years about the threats from climate change and pledged to limit greenhouse gases. Some have even committed the ultimate sin, endorsing the controversial cap-and-trade concept that was eventually branded "cap and tax."

Now, as they prepare for a wide-open primary season, many of the Republicans are searching for ways to explain themselves to a conservative voting base full of hungry tea party activists and climate skeptics who don't take kindly to environmental issues so closely linked with Al Gore.

Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have admitted it too. But over the last couple of years, climate change went from something Republicans acknowledged was happening and were willing to do something about, to something they acknowledged was happening but weren't really willing to do anything about, to something that they refuse to acknowledge is happening. That has now become the orthodox Republican position.

The line in the story about Al Gore shows why this has happened. Hating liberals was always important to conservatives, but of late, it has become the central organizing principle of American conservatism. If Al Gore thinks climate change is a threat, you can't be a real Republican unless you deny it. If liberals like NPR, it must be destroyed. If liberals favor net neutrality, it must be a communist plot.

But when you run for president, you're responsible for every position you've ever taken, and primary voters are not going to consider "Lots of Republicans agreed with me at the time" to be an adequate explanation. It's as though the candidates are all Mitt Romney now, forced to explain away or change their prior positions not because they used to be raging liberals but because the party has moved so drastically to the right. There may be some safety in numbers, however: If all the leading contenders have a shameful climate past, then none of them is any worse than any other. Maybe they can negotiate a mutual non-aggression pact on the issue, and just agree not to talk about it. But it's more likely that when they get asked about it, they'll take the maximal denialist position, and pretend they never really believed in climate change at all.