For more than a decade, Democrats have dominated the national conversation on climate change, while Republicans, standing on the sidelines, were at best indifferent and at worst hostile toward the issue. Until now.
Recently, Sen. Mike Braun, with help from Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, co-founded the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, bringing Indiana, as the Indianapolis Star noted, to “the forefront of the fight against climate change.”
The newly established caucus, which includes Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Marco Rubio (Florida) and Mitt Romney (Utah), helps balance the conversation on climate change by allowing – and encouraging – Republicans to be a part of it. In an era of gridlock and partisanship, the group creates a bridge between Democrats and Republicans to discuss a variety of potential solutions to one of the most pressing issues of our age.
This comes after prominent Republicans have voiced their support for climate measures. This year, Florida’s Rep. Matt Gaetz said that “climate change is real,” and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said that “we have to do something different than we’ve done” on climate change to attract younger voters.
It may come as a surprise to some Democrats to see Republican lawmakers acknowledging climate change after years of denying its existence. But times have changed, Americans are overwhelmingly concerned about climate change and want lawmakers to address the issue – including Republicans. A few months ago, Indiana University released a new study that revealed that a majority of Hoosier Republicans support measures that would “improve the state’s resilience in the face of climate change.”
And national polls have found that nearly 70% of Republicans believe climate change is real and 56% of them say the United States has to take “aggressive” action to fight climate change. These polls reflect a major shift from a decade ago, when most conservative voters disregarded climate change.
This shift presents a real opportunity to address the challenges presented by climate change. But for the Republican Party’s electoral survival, more Republican lawmakers have to catch up to their own base.
In 2016 and 2018, the Republican Party suffered significant losses in suburban areas, where voters are more moderate. One reason so many seats flipped blue may be, in part, because moderate voters want to see the party make addressing climate change a main pillar of its platform. A new Pew Research survey revealed 65% of moderate Republicans think the federal government hasn’t done enough to reduce the effects of climate change. These numbers were higher for Republicans who are a part of the millennial and younger generations.
Republicans must start making climate change more of a priority if the party wants to win over moderates, register young voters and survive in the future. Earlier this year, Frank Luntz, noted Republican pollster and strategist, said that climate change is a “GOP vulnerability and a GOP opportunity.”
By not championing climate change legislation, Republicans can become vulnerable to more electoral losses. But by taking the lead on developing sensible solutions, they can win over a wide swath of voters who are concerned about the environment, but don’t support budget-breaking proposals that will raise their taxes, such as the Green New Deal, which would cost $93 million to implement.
The Republican Party has a long history of protecting the environment, from President Theodore Roosevelt’s founding the national park system to President Richard Nixon’s creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. We are grateful for Braun’s leadership in establishing the Climate Solutions Caucus and hope more Republicans join to help make the GOP a party of common-sense, market-based solutions to climate change.
Vicki Bailey is former commissioner at the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. John Graham is professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. Both are advisers to the Alliance for Market Solutions, an organization of conservative leaders developing solutions to climate change.