Campaign Roundup: The Republican Presidential Candidates on Climate Change
from The Water's Edge and Renewing America

Campaign Roundup: The Republican Presidential Candidates on Climate Change

Each Friday, I look at what the presidential contenders are saying about foreign policy. This week: Some Republican presidential candidates agree the planet is warming, but none has made tackling climate change a priority.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on December 1, 2023.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on December 1, 2023. Thaier Al Sudani/Reuters

The twenty-eighth Conference of the Parties, or COP28, opened yesterday in Dubai. The conference is set to assess whether the world is on track to keep global temperatures from rising by 1.5 degrees Celsius and to stand up a World Bank-administered fund to compensate poorer countries for damage they have suffered from climate change. With the world setting new temperature records this year and with extreme weather events on the rise, it’s worth asking what Republican presidential candidates propose to do in response to this existential risk to humanity.

The answer looks to be, not much. Donald Trump hasn’t said how he would approach climate change if he returns to the White House. But during his first term in office, he withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement and regularly ridiculed the idea of man-made climate change. Vivek Ramaswamy is staking out the same space. At the first Republican presidential debate, he insisted that “the climate change agenda is a hoax” and that “more people are dying of bad climate change policies than they are of actual climate change.”

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Ron DeSantis has had to deal with the effects of climate change as governor of Florida. He has pushed several steps to make the state more resilient in the face of rising sea levels and more intense storms. However, he has declined to say whether he believes that human activity is changing the climate while saying that climate change is “left-wing stuff” that environmental advocates use to “smuggle in their ideology” into policymaking.

Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, Asa Hutchinson, and Doug Burgum all acknowledge that human activity is changing the world’s climate. All of them favor, as Haley put it, “telling China and India that they have to lower their emissions.” Indeed, Christie says that “would be one of the items on my agenda with the Chinese.” But none of them is making the case for moving aggressively to cut U.S. emissions. Rather, they prefer finding ways to remove carbon dioxide from the air.

The willingness of Republican presidential hopefuls to deride climate change as a problem or to relegate it down the list of policy priorities reflects—and helps guide—where rank-and-file Republicans stand on the issue. Less than one-in-four Republican voters see climate change as a major threat. That number is roughly what it was ten years ago. So a decade of scientific warnings and extreme weather events has failed to move the needle with Republicans.

The problem with this blasé approach to climate change is that we may soon reach the point, if we haven’t already, where catastrophic climate change cannot be avoided. So-called carbon-capture technology may one day be capable of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a reasonable cost, enabling humanity to sustain its reliance on fossil fuels. That day, however, doesn’t appear to be anytime soon. Instead, heat-trapping gases continue to accumulate, threatening to unleash consequences we will someday wish we had been wise enough to avoid.

Campaign Update

The Republican National Committee confirmed that under its delegate-allocation rules that 47 percent of all Republican nominating delegates will be allocated once the polls close on Super Tuesday, March 5. By the end of March, 66 percent of Republican delegates will have been chosen. Those numbers are significant because Donald Trump’s federal trial on election-interference charges begins on March 4.

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Table II

Nikki Haley won the endorsement of Americans for Prosperity Action, the Koch brothers’ political network. The group said that “in sharp contrast to recent elections that were dominated by the negative baggage of Donald Trump and in which good candidates lost races that should have been won,” the former South Carolina governor, “at the top of the ticket, would boost candidates up and down the ballot, winning the key independent and moderate voters that Trump has no chance to win.” The endorsement skipped over Haley’s embrace of a muscular and internationalist foreign policy, which runs counter to the Koch network’s calls for a more restrained, or isolationist if you prefer, foreign policy.

No Labels announced this week that it is cancelling its plans to hold a nominating convention in Dallas next April. The self-described bipartisan group that is seeking to run third-party candidate will instead conduct its “selection process virtually.” The group said it made the decision to give itself more time to find its nominees and to diminish the risk it will throw the election to Trump. No Labels says it is on pace to be on the ballot in twenty-seven states by the start of 2024.

The Candidates in Their Own Words

The Haley campaign released its first TV ad. Titled “Moral Clarity,” the thirty-second ad begins with a photograph of Haley voting at the United Nations and then warns that “China, Russia, and Iran are advancing.” The former South Carolina governor is highlighting her hawkish views rather than retreating from them in the face of what is said to be an inward-looking Republican electorate.

Democratic challenger Marianne Williamson spoke at New England College this week. She argued that “we do have a forever war machine in the United States” and vowed that as president she would seek to cut defense spending by 20 percent. She also pledged to push for “a greatly bolstered State Department which will once again be about diplomacy more than it’s about arms sales.” On the topic of the Ukraine War, she said that the United States made many mistakes in its policy toward Moscow but that none of that “justifies Vladimir’s invasion of Ukraine.” She called for a “negotiated settlement” worked out with all other major powers in “a global operation.”

What the Pundits Are Saying

Michelle Cottle weighed in on how the next seven weeks are “the crucial stretch” in the race to the Republican presidential nomination. “It is time for the most promising Trump challengers—who at this point appear to be Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley—to hunker down and show us what they are made of.”

John Hendrickson covered a recent Haley campaign event in South Carolina and concluded that “she’s squarely challenging Ron DeSantis for second place in the Republican primary, no matter how second that place may be.”

Robert Kagan argued that Americans need to “stop the wishful thinking and face the stark reality: There is a clear path to dictatorship in the United States, and it is getting shorter every day.” Kagan sees Trump’s election as an increasing possibility, “yet we continue to drift toward dictatorship, still hoping for some intervention that will allow us to escape the consequences of our collective cowardice, our complacent, willful ignorance and, above all, our lack of any deep commitment to liberal democracy.” 

Jazmine Ulloa, the New York Times reporter assigned to cover Haley’s presidential campaign, wrote that the former South Carolina governor is seeking to “stitch together a coalition of Republicans” that will take her to the nomination. “It’s a challenge that will test what political strategists and those who have observed Ms. Haley’s ascent from her first underdog win in South Carolina have said is among her greatest skills as a candidate: an ability to calibrate her message to the moment.”

Kara Vought recounted the efforts by Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson to win support from New Hampshire voters.

The Campaign Schedule

The fourth Republican debate is five days away (December 6, 2023).

The Iowa caucuses, the first nominating event on the election calendar, are forty-five days away (January 15, 2024).

The South Carolina primary, the first Democratic primary, is sixty-four days away (February 3, 2024).

Election Day is 340 days away.

Sinet Adous and Michelle Kurilla assisted in the preparation of this post.

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