Dana Nuccitelli*- The Guardian
Like opposing civil rights and gay marriage, climate denial will drive voters away from the GOP
The Republican Party is rotting away. The problem is that GOP policies just aren’t popular. Most Americans unsurprisingly oppose climate denial, tax cuts for the wealthy, and putting children (including toddlers) in concentration camps, for example.
The Republican Party has thus far managed to continue winning elections by creating “a coalition between racists and plutocrats,” as Paul Krugman put it. The party’s economic policies are aimed at benefitting wealthy individuals and corporations, but that’s a slim segment of the American electorate. The plutocrats can fund political campaigns, but to capture enough votes to win elections, the GOP has resorted to identity politics. Research has consistently shown that Trump won because of racial resentment among white voters.
While that strategy has worked in the short-term, some Republicans recognize that it can’t work in the long-term, and they’re fighting to save their party from extinction.
Climate change is one of many issues that divides the Republican Party. Like racial resentment, climate denial is a position held mostly by old, white, male conservatives. There’s a climate change generational, ethnic, and gender gap. 61% of Republicans under the age of 50 support government climate policies, compared to just 44% of Republicans over 50. Similarly, a majority of Hispanic- and African-Americans accept human-caused global warming and 70% express concern about it, as compared to just 41% of whites who accept the scientific reality and 50% who worry about it.
But the plutocratic wing of the GOP loves fossil fuels. Republican politicians rely on campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry, and quid pro quo requires them to do the industry’s bidding. It might as well be called the Grand Oil Party.
There is no other reason why the GOP should not unify behind a revenue-neutral carbon tax. This free market, small government climate policy – which taxes carbon pollution and returns all the revenue to American households – is indeed supported by many conservatives. A group of Republican elder statesmen created a coalition called the Climate Leadership Council to build conservative support for a revenue-neutral carbon tax. They’re now backed by Americans for Carbon Dividends (AfCD), led in part by former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott with a renewed effort to build support for this policy.
AfCD recently released polling results showing that 55% of Americans believe US environmental policy is headed in the wrong direction (29% say it’s on the right track), 81% of likely voters including 58% of Strong Republicans agree the government should take action to limit carbon emissions, and by a 56% to 26% margin (including a 55% to 32% margin among Strong Republicans), Americans support a revenue-neutral carbon tax.
It’s not a wildly popular policy proposal, but it does have broad bipartisan support. It’s also a smart way to curb climate change with minimal economic impact, and in fact with a massive net economic benefit compared to unchecked climate change. That’s why economists overwhelmingly support a carbon tax.
The GOP was on the wrong side of history on civil rights and gay marriage and has paid the price, having largely become the party of old, straight, white men. Climate change is a similarly critical historical issue, but one that will directly impact every single American. Some smart Republicans recognize that the party can’t afford to be on the wrong side of history again on this issue.
Racial politics slapped a band-aid on the GOP’s gaping wound
Donald Trump managed to win the presidency in 2016 by stoking racial resentment among white Americans, but still lost the popular vote by a margin of nearly 3 million, and Republicans have only won the presidential popular vote once in the past two decades. They’re winning elections by relying on structural advantages (gerrymandering and weighting of rural votes), voter suppression, and mobilizing older white voters.
Trump seems to be doubling down on the latter strategy ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, for example by claiming that illegal immigrants are “infesting” America and by putting immigrant children in concentration camps. While only 25% of Americans support separating immigrant children from their parents, 49% of Republicans favor the policy. It’s a recipe for turning out the racist base (who also tend to be climate deniers), but not for winning a general election. Especially over the long-term as America becomes less white and as younger, more tolerant Americans become a larger proportion of the electorate.
When asked about the child concentration camps at a press conference, Senator David Perdue (R-GA) made the connection between the GOP coalition of plutocrats and racists, telling reporters:
we came here to talk about a crisis. Your job is to inform the American people, our job is to provide solutions. … God help us if we don’t solve this debt crisis. This is the No. 1 topic in America today … I want to make sure that the few minutes that we have didn’t get hijacked by the current shiny object of the day. [The national debt] is the current crisis in America.
The national debt might be less of a crisis had the GOP not added well over $1tn to the deficit in order to give wealthy Americans a tax cut. But apparently, it’s now a greater crisis than the American government taking immigrant children from their parents and putting them in concentration camps, or the existential threat posed by climate change. In other words, GOP priority #1 is further enriching plutocrats, priority #2 is reducing the national debt by cutting programs that help non-plutocrats; keeping families together and preserving a livable climate fall somewhere down the list.
Outside of the Republican base, these are unpopular priorities and policies. But as Katie Arrington, who recently beat Climate Solutions Caucus member Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) in a primary put it, “We are the party of President Donald J. Trump.” That’s a party that can only win races that are decided by white racial resentment. It’s a party that, given demographic changes, has become an endangered species.
Some Republicans are trying to save the party by embracing smart policies like a revenue-neutral carbon tax. But so far, the party dodos are winning. Mon 2 Jul 2018
*Dana Nuccitelli an environmental scientist and risk assessor and writes the column Climate consensus – the 97%