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No Time for Climate at the Democrat Debate

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/Tony Dejak

While some have suggested that Mayor Pete Buttigieg “won” this week’s Democrat presidential debate, there is no question who, or rather what, was the loser.

CNN and New York Times reporters did not ask any candidate any question about climate change and its offspring, the Green New Deal. It was a surprising omission. In the abstract, climate has polled as a very high priority among Democrat voters, so much so that in September, CNN televised a seven-and-one-half hour town hall meeting on climate for the candidates.


This week, both Bernie Sanders and Tom Steyer briefly protested the lack of attention to climate, but to no avail. A few other candidates mentioned the term “climate” in passing (Andrew Yang, Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar), but the CNN and New York Times reporters did not take the bait.

The omission of climate did draw the attention of New York Times climate reporter Lisa Friedman. Noting a TV ad run during the debate by the climate skeptic Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) that criticized the Green New Deal, Friedman tweeted, “That CEI ad against the Green New Deal is officially the longest discussion of climate change during the 4th #DemDebate.”

Yet the Green New Deal was launched by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the premise that there are only 12 years left to “save” the planet. During the debate, Sanders referred to climate as an “existential” threat. Steyer called it a “crisis.” Still, the CNN and New York Times reporters could not be persuaded to serve up a climate question to the candidates.

This should come as no surprise. Climate change has never been a political winner. The political track record is clear. Consider the following:

  • 1993. Bill Clinton’s “BTU” tax, perhaps the first CO2 tax ever voted on, passed the Democrat-controlled House but failed in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Many blamed their 1994 election defeats on votes for the BTU tax.
  • 1997. The Senate voted 95-0 to express opposition to the Kyoto Protocol.
  • 2000. Vice President Al Gore campaigned on global warming but lost to Texas oilman George W. Bush.
  • 2008. Though Barack Obama campaigned on global warming and won against Sen. John McCain, McCain had repeatedly introduced climate bills with Democrat co-sponsor Sen. Joe Lieberman in 2003, 2005 and 2007. There was not much, if any, daylight between Obama and McCain on climate.
  • 2009-2010. The Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill failed to advance in the Senate. In the 2010 election, Democrats lost control of both houses of Congress in part because of the unpopular “cap-and-tax”.
  • 2010 – 2016. Republicans won and maintained control of Congress in part by campaigning against the Obama war-on-coal.
  • 2016. Donald Trump campaigned against the global warming “hoax” and on a promise to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, defeating Hillary Clinton who backed climate alarmism.
  • 2017. Of the 30 Republicans who had joined the bi-partisan congressional Climate Solutions Caucus, Democrats targeted 24 of them for defeat in the 2018 election.
  • 2018. Of the 45 Republicans who had joined the Climate Solutions Caucus, more than one-third (including GOP-co-chair Carlos Curbelo) were defeated in the November election.
  • 2019. No Senator voted for the Green New Deal, including Green New Deal co-sponsor Sen. Ed Markey and Sanders, recently endorsed for president by Ocasio-Cortez.

Why does climate have such a poor political track record? That’s easy. While people may tell a pollster that they are “concerned” about the climate or even that they support a carbon tax, when asked how much they would be willing to pay, the answer is pretty much “nothing.”

In a recent Washington Post poll, for example, 60% of respondents said they supported a carbon tax. But 75% said they would oppose a 25-cent gas tax and 71% said they would oppose paying $10 more a month for electricity – both representing extremely minimal carbon taxes.

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, who dropped out of the Democrat race after polling at zero percent as the “climate candidate,” has now failed twice to persuade voters to pass a carbon tax in his own left-leaning state.

While the Green New Deal may sound like a good idea to many people, when you tell them what that would do to their standard of living, lifestyle and pocketbook, support all but evaporates.

The September CNN town hall on climate was a debacle for Democrats. They spent over seven hours explaining to Americans how they would take away their cheeseburgers, plastic straws, plastic trash bags, end fracking and more.

Usually politicians promise voters the moon. Climate is the one issue where they are promising voters a green hell ¾ degraded lifestyles and reduced standards of living. Democrat candidates should be grateful this week that the CNN and New York Times debate moderators spared them further self-inflicted damage to their campaigns.


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