A week ago potential Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made comments that surprised some conservative political strategists. Offering his his views on global warming, Mr. Romney said the following.
“I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world is getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe humans contribute to that. I don’t know how much our contribution is to that because I know there have been periods of greater heat and warmth in the past, but I believe that we contribute to that. And so I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and green house gasses that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and global warming that you’re seeing. Now how do we go about doing that?”
Conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh was unimpressed. He even suggested Romney’s beliefs eliminated any chance of a victorious primary season in 2012. Mr. Limbaugh was wrong.
A fair-mined perusal of the former Governor’s statement a reveals a honestly stated, moderate position that is unencumbered by global warming hysteria. Reading between the lines, candidate Romney is not claiming omniscience on the issue, as most Democrats and some Republicans do, but rather outlining his general views. Perhaps more importantly for Republican primary voters, he readily acknowledged historical variations in global climate patterns. If this acknowledgment means anything, it means Mr. Romney is a dedicated climate-realist – an individual who is no more interested in ignoring data that may prove global warming, than he is in dismissing evidence to the contrary.
Many small-government pundits will flagellate Mitt Romney’s desire to “reduce our emissions of pollutants and green house gasses,” they should do so carefully however. Mr. Romney has been openly skeptical of carbon taxing and trading schemes. From this angle he shows little pragmatic distance from his Republican competitors.
Given the lack of throughly reliable long-term climatic data, those who categorically contend that global warming is not occurring, or that humans are most assuredly blameless, have the same malady as individuals with the opposite opinion: unwarranted extrapolation. That said, if conservative political commentators continue to focus on the logical shortcomings of Romney’s personal beliefs, small-government advocates will have missed a chance to ask the real question: if man-made global warming does exist, what level of government should address the issue?
Regardless of what Rush Limbaugh says, many Republican primary voters don’t care about a candidate’s personal beliefs about global warming per se, but rather how the candidate in question approaches the subject philosophically. If Mitt Romney passes the philosophical test – perhaps by advocating a state-by-state approach and vowing to never sign a cap and trade bill – Republican primary voters will likely overlook his unorthodox beliefs in this area.
However, if Mitt Romney is unable to convince Republican primary voters that he is sufficiently conservative on other meaningful issues (e.g. abortion, same-sex civil unions, gun ownership, federal spending, etc) the Republican presidential nomination will be beyond his reach. Broad ideological incomparability, perceived or real, will do more to stymie a candidate’s chances of winning a party’s nomination than any other single factor.
Forget what Rush Limbaugh said, Republican primary voters are smarter than his one-off comment made them seem. If Mr. Romney loses it will be because he was perceived to be an unreliable moderate on a host of issues – the least of which will be global warming.