WASHINGTON — Polls suggest Mitt Romney is the one Republican presidential hopeful who stands a real chance of beating Barack Obama in 2012, but conservatives are blazing a new warpath against the former Massachusetts governor — this time for his belief that climate change is real.
“Bye-bye, nomination,” radio host Rush Limbaugh, a guiding light for many hard-core conservatives in the United States, said this week after the former Massachussetts governor stated publicly that the planet is getting warmer.
“Another one down. We’re in the midst here of discovering that this is all a hoax. The last year has established that the whole premise of man-made global warming is a hoax, and we still have presidential candidates that want to buy into it.”
Limbaugh was later challenged during his show by a caller who noted that the non-partisan National Academy of Sciences, considered the Supreme Court of science, has concluded that climate change is both real and brought on by human activity.
But no matter: the bombastic talk show host speaks for a Republican party that’s increasingly at odds with political parties worldwide, even fellow conservative ones in Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom that are attempting to deal with climate change.
Already distrustful of Romney due to his Mormon faith and the universal health-care he brought into law in Massachusetts that’s similar to Obama’s sweeping reforms, conservatives are reacting to his climate change remarks as though he’s proclaimed George W. Bush was behind the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“His run for president as a Republican is now officially over,” declared Charles Johnson at the conservative Little Green Footballs website.
“Remind me again: Why is this guy considered the frontrunner for the Republican nomination?” read a post on the Conservatives 4 Palin website, which maintains global warming is a hoax.
“I may be going out on a limb here, but shouldn’t the Republican candidate oppose Democrat positions? Or am I living in the past and hopelessly naive?”
The trouble started during a recent appearance in Manchester, N.H.
“I believe the world’s getting warmer…. I believe that humans contribute to that,” Romney said in response to a query on whether he’d disavow the science behind climate change.
“It’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.”
He was quick to add that he doesn’t think cap-and-trade policies are the answer, saying the proposed legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions would be harmful to American businesses.
Many of Romney’s fellow Republicans, however, are not only vehemently opposed to cap and trade, they deny the existence of any problem that requires such legislation. Among the field of potential Republican candidates, only Romney’s fellow Mormon, Jon Huntsman, believes climate change is not a hoax.
“If 90 per cent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer, we’d listen to them,” Huntsman said recently.
“I respect science and the professionals behind the science so I tend to think it’s better left to the science community, though we can debate what that means for the energy and transportation sectors.”
Tim Pawlenty has apologized repeatedly for once believing in climate change. Newt Gingrich once believed climate change is real, but also changed his mind.
“Now, if you were a left-wing intellectual, climate change is the newest excuse to take control of lives,” Gingrich told voters in New Hampshire last month.
No other Republican candidate believes in climate change, with former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum calling it “patently absurd” in an appearance on Limbaugh’s show on Wednesday.
“It’s just an excuse for more government control of your life,” he said, “and I’ve never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative.”
And yet Romney faces a conundrum. The very climate change opinions that could hurt him during the Republican primaries will likely endear him to the general population, says Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
“It’s standard procedure in American politics except now it’s even more distinct and severe than ever,” he said Thursday.
“In order to get the nomination you have to move far to the right or to the left, to appeal to the special interest groups, then of course you have to scurry back to the centre where you have the moderates and independents so that you can actually win the election.”
Romney has opted not to play that game on climate change, one of his advisers told the Washington Post.
“The fact that he doesn’t change his position … that’s the upside for us. He’s not going to change his mind on these issues to put his finger in the wind for what scores points with these parts of the party.”
That might sit well with the majority of Americans, if not the Republican base.
A recent Gallup poll suggested that even though Americans are less worried about global warming than they were a few years ago, it’s still a concern. The survey also suggested Americans trust the science behind climate change and believe human activities are contributing to the problem.
It isn’t the first time Romney has dared to break with his party on issues near and dear to its Christian evangelical base. At a Iowa debate in 2007, Romney did not raise his hand when Republican candidates were asked to do so if they didn’t believe in evolution.