By Darren Goode
Republican presidential candidates should embrace clean energy and climate change to pick up support in a general election, GOP operatives urged Wednesday, even as their party’s presidential field has stayed mostly mum.
Young Conservatives for Energy Reform and the Christian Coalition brought Republican lawmakers, activists and pollsters to Capitol Hill for an event arguing clean energy was a winning natural security, economic and moral message for voters.
Participants warned that candidates risk alienating moderate swing voters if they reject climate science or oppose clean energy in the GOP primary. During a panel discussion among Republican pollsters, Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies said candidates risk being perceived as “a dinosaur when it comes to energy policy” if they ignore clean energy. Instead, he said they should tout jobs created by wind and solar development, reduced health care spending that comes with cleaner air and national security benefits tied to reduced dependence on foreign oil.
The gathering comes as Hillary Clinton’s campaign is labeling Republicans as anti-science in a broader-brushed effort to paint the party as out-of-step with the public on a variety of evolving issues, including gay marriage, women’s health and normalizing relations with Cuba.
“Clean energy issues are more important for Republicans in the general election to underscore that they are not just living in the past,” Bolger told POLITICO after the event. “What you’ll see is those ideas will be ratcheted up come the general as long as we don’t have a candidate like Donald Trump who has no idea what the hell he’s going to say.”
None of the upper-tier GOP presidential candidates have released ideas to tackle climate change. Florida Republicans Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who have released the two most comprehensive energy proposals so far in the GOP field, have focused mainly on spurring fossil fuels and reducing federal regulations. In a video message at Wednesday’s event, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a long-shot candidate, said, “We should not cede ground to our liberal friends on this issue.”
Another pollster warned that while Republicans should not reject the reality of climate change outright, they also should put forward their own proposals to address it.
“Conservative voters do not reject climate change out of hand; it’s what causes it and what do we do about it,” said Dan Judy of North Star Opinion Research, who has conducted polls for Rubio.