"It Was a Mistake"
You don’t have to go back into the mists of time—like, say, 2000, when candidate George W. Bush pledged to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant—to find leading Republican politicians who were not ashamed of their concern for the planet. Only three or four years ago, nearly every one of the current contenders for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination was on the record expressing the belief that global warming was caused by human activity—and that something ought to be done about it. Now? Not so much.
In 2008, for example, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin adopted her running mate John McCain’s concern for the issue. “I believe that man’s activities certainly can be contributing to the issue of global warming,” she told ABC News. “John McCain and I agree that we gotta do something about it.” Now she dismisses global warming as “snake-oil science.”
As governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty was a certified climate moderate. “Our global climate is warming, at least in part due to the energy sources we use,” he said in 2006. In 2008, he supported cap and trade as a free-market alternative to regulation. But this February, speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference, he offered a recantation worthy of Galileo: “Have I changed my position? Yes. Just saying, yeah, it was a mistake. It was stupid. It was wrong.”
As governor of Massachusetts in 2004, Mitt Romney established a Climate Protection Plan, which required state agencies and the state’s large businesses to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Four years later, he accused rival McCain of supporting “radical climate change legislation.” The then–Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee declared his support for cap and trade in 2007 but changed his tune in 2010: “In a recent Internet post, a contributor makes the claim that I supported cap and trade in late 2007. To put it simply, that’s not true,” he stated on his Huck PAC blog.
No 2012 contender has more to apologize for, however, than Newt Gingrich. In 2008, the former House speaker appeared in a public service announcement sitting on a couch with then–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “We don’t always see eye to eye, do we, Newt?” Pelosi asked. “No,” Gingrich replied. “But we do agree our country must take action to address climate change.” This February, however, in response to the EPA’s efforts to do just that, Gingrich called for the abolition of the agency, saying “What you have from the Obama administration is a war against American energy.”
Illustration by Victor Juhasz