A concerted push has begun within the Republican party—in conservative think tanks and grassroots groups, and even in backroom, off-the-record conversations on Capitol Hill—to persuade Republicans to acknowledge and address climate change in their own terms. The effort will surely add heat to the deep internal conflict in the years ahead.
Republicans have been struggling with an identity crisis since the 2012 presidential election. In particular, the nation’s rapid demographic changes are forcing the GOP to come to terms with the newly powerful influence of Hispanic voters and to confront the issue of immigration. For now, climate change isn’t getting anywhere close to that kind of urgent scrutiny from Republicans, at least not in public. GOP strategists say that Republican candidates hoping to win primary races, where the electorate tends to be older and more ideologically driven, are still best served to deny, ignore, or dismiss climate change.
Today, a Republican candidate “wouldn’t be able to win a primary with a Jon Huntsman position on this,” says strategist Glen Bolger.
The problem is, as polling data and the changing demographics of the American electorate show, it’s likely that the position that can win voters in a primary will lose voters in a general election. Some day, though, the facts—both scientific and demographic—will force GOP candidates to confront climate change whether they want to or not. And that day will come sooner than they think.
In this week's National Journal cover story, Coral Davenport explores the Republican party's relationship with climate change. In the video above, get inside the story with the author herself.