George Pataki has a plan. Currently polling somewhere around 0 percent, the former New York governor needs a fresh approach to his long-shot presidential campaign, something to help him break through. According to a new report, he’s decided to appeal to the sensible moderates of his party. Yancey Roy writes in Newsday that Pataki “is looking to use climate change as a way to distinguish himself from other Republican candidates and try to woo moderates voters – especially in New Hampshire.”
Pataki appears to be the only GOP candidate who doesn’t doubt the reality of man-made climate change. Sensing a possible opening, he wrote in a recent Twitter post that “Climate Change is real…And I would shout if from the rooftops.” In a second post, Pataki referenced a study that shows 54% of conservative Republicans believe in climate change.
I have to say, Pataki’s is a curious strategy. I admire his willingness to side with science over the base, but he has to know this won’t win him many votes in the primary contests. There’s a reason every other Republican candidate in the Fox News debate (with the exception of Ted Cruz, who was all-too-eager to tout his denialism) awkwardly refused to acknowledge climate science when prompted by the moderator. It’s the same reason Republicans can’t talk honestly about evolution and creationism: The fundamentalists controlling the party won’t let them.
Pataki may have been politically wiser to take his cues from fellow “moderate,” John Kasich. In 2012, Kasich said “I am a believer – my goodness I am a Republican – I happen to believe there is a problem with climate change…I don’t want to overreact to it, I can’t measure it all, but I respect the creation that the Lord has given us and I want to make sure we protect it.” Kasich, aware of the rampant anti-intellectualism among the base, has already begun walking this back. Now he’s not so sure about the science. “Man-made climate change,” he said on a recent episode of "Meet the Press," is just “some theory that’s not proven.”
This is embarrassing but it isn’t new. We saw it in 2012 when Jon Huntsman, another Republican “moderate,” sought the party’s nomination. In that race, Huntsman tried to distinguish himself as the sane candidate, the guy adults could be comfortable with. He even wrote on his personal Twitter account that “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” Huntsman was similarly reasonable in the debates, and he was practically laughed out of the room. Despite being one of the more qualified candidates in the race, the former Utah governor and ambassador to China got zero traction, and it was largely because of his intellectual honesty.
The Republican Party, as Bobby Jindal (ironically) warned in 2013, is the “stupid party.” GOP candidates have to pretend not to be smart in order to appease the stupid people who dominate their party. This is a terrible problem, for the Republican Party and the country. There isn’t another mainstream party in the western world that’s even remotely comparable to the GOP. Everywhere else the empirical climate science is accepted, and the question is not whether to respond but how to respond.
Only in America is climate change a political issue in this way. To be sure, political parties in other countries disagree about how best to respond, but they aren’t mired in debates about the facts or the basic science. Perhaps it’s true that 54 percent of Republicans accept climate change, but these voices, to the extent that they exist, have been marginalized. Instead, the will to ignorance in the most extreme elements of the GOP have taken over the party, and that’s really the problem. If Pataki doesn’t already know this (and I assume he does), he’ll find out soon enough.