Trump is out of touch with Republican voters on climate change

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images
US President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at Prescott Regional Airport in Prescott, Arizona on October 19, 2020.

Ahead of the final presidential debate on Thursday, the Trump campaign is calling for climate change to be removed from the agenda. 

In a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates, Trump Campaign Manager Bill Stepien criticized the organizers, writing that “the Commission’s pro-Biden antics have turned the entire debate season into a fiasco and it is little wonder why the public has lost faith in its objectivity.” 

According to the latest polls, it’s the Trump campaign, not the debate commission, that is out of touch with American voters — including Republicans — on the topic of climate change. 

In a poll conducted by our sister organization, The Conservation Coalition and the Conservative Energy Network, 68 percent percent of Republicans between the ages of 18 and 54 say climate change is important to their vote. The poll also found that more than three quarters of all GOP voters favor the government taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

At the first presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace surprised viewers by bringing up the topic. He pushed Joe Biden on the economic feasibility of his proposals, but most notably challenged Trump on his record of climate change denial. For the first time, Trump acknowledged that human activity contributes to global warming, saying, “I think a lot of things do [contribute], but I think to an extent, yes. To an extent, yes.”

Trump pointed to declining carbon emissions under his administration as well as his support for the Trillion Trees Initiative, a proposal to expand the natural carbon sequestration capacity of the world’s forests. Yet, despite acknowledging the problem for the first time, Trump’s response fell short. 

While earning the votes of the progressive base of the climate movement is understandably not a priority of the Trump campaign, his team seems to have missed the growing majority of Republicans who are concerned about the issue. In a year of historic wildfires in the West and relentless hurricanes in the Southeast, more Republicans are going to the ballot box with climate change on their minds. 

These voters will never support progressive proposals like the Green New Deal, but they are looking for leadership from their own party. Eighty-five percent of GOP voters between the ages of 18 and 54 say they are more likely to support a Republican candidate who embraces an innovation based approach to climate change. In Congress, Republicans like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) have listened, introducing legislation to invest in clean energy and expand natural carbon sequestration. In House and Senate races across the country, many GOP candidates are also responding by including climate action in their platforms and discussing climate on the campaign trail.  

With the election less than two weeks away, Thursday’s debate is an opportunity for the president to show his base that, like them, he takes climate change seriously. The upside is huge — 90 percent of GOP voters between 18 and 54 say they would view Trump more favorably if he supported a conservative approach to addressing climate change. Down ballot, a pivot on climate from Trump would also relieve pressure on Senate Republicans facing grueling reelection races. 

Rather than deny Americans the chance to judge the candidates’ positions on an issue they care about, Trump should join Republican voters and lawmakers in supporting an innovation-based approach to climate change. If he doesn’t, Americans will have no reason to believe that he is equipped to meet one of the greatest challenges facing our country in the next four years and beyond. 

Quill Robinson is the vice president of Government Affairs at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC). Follow him on Twitter at @QuillRobinson.

Tags 1 trillion trees initiative 2020 presidential debate anti-climate Bill Stepien Chris Wallace Climate change Climate movement Donald Trump environmental policy Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Mike Braun pro-climate Republican voters Trump campaign Trump climate young conservatives
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