With only one presidential debate left on the schedule, President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE has an opportunity to move the Republican Party forward on the issue of climate change — something he failed to do at the first debate. While much of that night wasn't actually spent on policy, moderator Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceBiden vaccine mandate puts McConnell, GOP leaders in a tough spot The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Biden's .5 trillion plan will likely have to shrink Breyer says term limits would 'make life easier for me' MORE unexpectedly asked a question about climate change, after pre-releasing debate topics that were to be discussed that included no mention of the climate.
It was obvious neither candidate was expecting the question. Much was made about Vice President Biden’s conflicting support, or lack thereof, for the Green New Deal and President Trump said on the record that human activity is contributing to climate change, but quickly pivoted to talk about the need for “clean air” and “clean water.” Both candidates failed to provide a succinct and clear answer about exactly what they would do to address the existential threat of climate change.
Wallace’s decision to bring up climate change during the debate clearly indicates that it is an issue top of mind for many voters, which is unsurprising given the wildfires raging across the West, made worse by a drier climate and increased temperatures that are linked to climate change, in addition to the extremely active hurricane seasons we have been experiencing, particularly in the Gulf.
But neither candidate rose to the occasion, and the topic was not given the seriousness that it deserves. And President Trump missed an opportunity to move the Republican Party forward on an issue that many voters care about.
According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, a majority of registered voters say climate change will either be a very (42 percent) or somewhat (26 percent) important issue when they head to the polls in November. And polling commissioned by the Alliance for Market Solutions this summer showed a majority of voters (58.3 percent) in the critical swing state of Florida support a balanced approach to climate change that protects both the economy and the environment.
What President Trump should have said, and still has the opportunity to at the debate on Thursday, is that the United States must use market-based solutions to address climate change that reduce carbon emissions without harming the economy or over burdening job creators.
The economy remains one of the top concerns for American voters, and rightly so, as the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked economic devastation across the country. Therefore, it is understandable that President Trump, who consistently polls higher than Vice President Biden when it comes to the economy, is concerned about supporting job-killing climate policies.
Thankfully, a tax on carbon emissions could actually be used to spur economic growth. By using the funds collected to decrease other, more distortionary taxes like the payroll tax, it would result in higher take home pay for Americans, while encouraging large carbon emitting companies to innovate. A carbon tax would also allow the U.S. to reduce burdensome environmental regulations that hamper job growth, while achieving the same level of carbon reduction.
As public opinion and demographics on the issue of climate change shift, to win in November, and in the future, the Republican Party must take the issue of climate change seriously and present real solutions without betraying our conservative principles. President Trump failed to do that in the first presidential debate, but he still has time left before Nov. 3.
Alex Flint is the executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions. He previously served as staff director of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, senior vice president of governmental affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute, and as a member of President Trump's transition team.