One of the main problems with Mitt Romney as a potential GOP candidate in 2016 is that he is forever outing himself as an old-consensus, big-government guy.
He’s been busy doing so this week on the subject of “climate change.” Readers may remember that in 2012, Romney was cagey about the causes of a warming globe, and skeptical of a need for government programs to address it:
Romney rarely speaks of climate change; he has written that he believes the planet is warming up. But why it’s happening is another matter.
“My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet, and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try and reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us,” he said at a private fundraiser early in the campaign.
In other written comments, he has since said humans play some role, but he hasn’t embraced the sweeping scientific consensus — backed by thousands of studies and accepted by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and its counterparts around the world — that humans are largely responsible.
His sentiments appear to have undergone a hardening in the years since. He may not be talking “trillions and trillions of dollars” at the moment, but he’s definitely talking human culpability, and “leadership” against the evils of coal-energy emissions.
The former Massachusetts governor affirmed his belief that man-made climate change is real in a series of public appearances this week and highlighted global warming as a key challenge that the next president will need to address.
“I’m one of those Republicans who thinks we are getting warmer and that we contribute to that,” Romney said at an event on Wednesday in Salt Lake City.
Romney added that “real leadership” is needed to rein in air pollution created from coal-fired power generation.
This stance actually appears to bring Romney back around to where he was ten years ago, when he was governor of Massachusetts. Early in his term, he appointed Gina McCarthy, Obama’s current EPA chief and a hard-left climate-change believer, to a top environmental post in state government. In 2006, Romney and the state legislature imposed the nation’s first state-level CO2 emission caps on the six largest power plants in the Bay State – touted at the time as a model for the concept. (California, of course, promptly one-upped Massachusetts with a much more sweeping cap-and-trade law, now being implemented in its planned increments.)
Romney had previously decided, in late 2005, not to keep Massachusetts in the Northeast’s multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Cynical observers at the time attributed this pullback to his interest in positioning himself for the 2008 presidential election. Interviews cited in a New York Times profile from 2012 suggest that it’s fairer to say Romney’s concern was how much the RGGI cap-and-trade scheme was likely to drive up energy costs and kill jobs.
But he went ahead, some months later, with a watered-down plan for state-level CO2 limits, a move that offers an important clue about Romney’s basic posture. In essence, we can say of him that he doesn’t think Democrats, or even a mixed consortium of other managers, can be trusted to exercise broad regulatory powers – but he thinks he can.
It’s worth pointing out that if catastrophic human-caused climate change were real, it would be senseless to try to address it by limiting CO2 emissions only in Massachusetts. Someone who believes the problem is real and urgent should logically hope to implement policies on as large a scale as possible. It can’t do any meaningful good to apply “solutions” only in one state.
But Romney’s approach was to try to find common ground among mutually exclusive propositions – with the bias toward regulating (as opposed to not regulating): just making sure that the regulating was done on Romney’s terms.
If that’s not the outline of the old, 20th-century political consensus, I don’t know what is. Whatever the collectivist left is on about, Republicans ultimately agree to set up some kind of agency or regulatory mechanism for it, with the proviso that Republicans will be engaged, and will thus keep things from getting out of hand.
More and more Americans are figuring out that this hasn’t worked as advertised. Everything has gotten out of hand. Promises that Romney can manage properly what the Democrats have been corrupt or incompetent with ring increasingly hollow. The problem is excessive government activity: regulation, intervention, subsidies – all at the whim of cronies with their hands in the till, and ideologues with essentially fascist visions.
Romney’s list of top issues for 2016 from his speech in Iowa this week – poverty, education, climate change – is badly off the mark to my ear. Americans are thinking about terrorism, border security, the collapse of order abroad and social peace at home, and the loss of their savings and their jobs. Say “poverty” and Romney’s potential voters hear “welfare state expansion, and I pay the freight.” Say “education” and those voters hear “Common Core.”
Say “climate change” and the voters hear “killing jobs and siccing a Stalinist EPA on businesses and property owners.” They don’t hear “potential for brilliant management of a multifaceted problem by the fellow who saved the Olympics.” We’re way past that now.