PAWLENTY THINKS HE WAS ‘STUPID’ WHEN HE WAS RIGHT…. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) is wrong about nearly everything, but on one important issue — climate change — he’s been entirely correct and refreshingly sensible.

Naturally, then, he’s apologizing for having been right.

As Republicans go, Pawlenty was actually quite progressive on climate policy. He backed cap-and-trade; he supported ambitious renewable energy policies; and left no doubt that he considered climate change a serious national threat. He even appeared in an Environmental Defense Fund commercial in support of a cap-and-trade plan, alongside then-Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D).

So, good for him, right? For all of his flaws, at least Pawlenty is right about one thing, right? Wrong. Pawlenty is now repudiating everything he ever said on the subject, hoping it will help him win over right-wing activists and help him get the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

“As to climate change — or more specifically cap-and-trade — I’ve just come out and admitted it,” Pawlenty said this week. “Look, it was a mistake, it was stupid…. Everybody in the race, well at least the big names in the race, embraced climate change or cap-and-trade at one point or another. Every one of us.”

It’s ironic that Pawlenty thinks he was “stupid” on the one policy in which he wasn’t stupid, but in terms of his characterization of his GOP rivals, that last part happens to be true. Huntsman, Romney, Gingrich, Palin, and Huckabee all have joined Pawlenty in supporting efforts to combat climate change, even endorsing cap-and-trade explicitly. Though it’s unclear if Huntsman has reversed (or will reverse) course, each of the other candidates has abandoned reason on the issue.

Kevin Drum had a good item pondering why GOP leaders, who were sensible literally just a few years ago, completed 180-degree reversals.

The answer isn’t very complex. Four years ago, in the wake of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth and growing public concern about global warming, corporate America felt that some kind of action on greenhouse gases was probably inevitable. And if it was inevitable, then cap-and-trade was their best bet. From their point of view it probably looked less threatening than a flat carbon tax, which is harder to game than cap-and-trade, and less costly than flat mandates from the EPA. So they got on board, and Republicans got on board with them.

But then a couple of years ago public concern over global warming started to wane and it became less obvious that action on greenhouse gases really was inevitable. So instead of settling for cap-and-trade as their least worst alternative, they decided to fight instead for their first best alternative: doing nothing. And once again, Republicans got on board with them.

This is also made easier by the lack of public demand. When most Americans — even most Republicans — agreed that the climate crisis was a serious threat, prominent GOP officials felt the need to take the issue seriously and present ideas to address the problem.

But now that the mainstream cares less, and the Republican rank-and-file has been told by Fox News that climate science is a communist conspiracy, party leaders no longer feel the need to keep up appearances.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.