Extreme Makeover: Senate Edition

Last week, I noted that the old-school GOP operatives urging the Republican Party to support a federal carbon tax as a “market-based” way to address climate change might be better off supporting state-level efforts to put a price on carbon. After all, despite some evidence of bipartisanship on climate on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell aren’t exactly falling all over themselves to tax the emissions of Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.

The Republican carbon-tax group made a big deal out of the fact that failed 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney tweeted his support for the policy as it was being introduced. It appears that Romney might have a chance to back up his support for this policy:

A handful of former presidential candidates are testing the waters for 2018 Senate races.

Carly Fiorina, who ran for president in 2016, earlier this week expressed interest in challenging Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the former Democratic vice presidential nominee.

And in Utah, the GOP field could be lush with ex-presidential candidates if GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch retires. Jon Huntsman, a 2012 GOP candidate, could run for the seat, as could 2016 independent candidate Evan McMullin. Even Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 nominee, hasn’t ruled anything out

[A]ny hopes for McMullin or Huntsman would likely be dashed if Romney were to get in the race, as he would almost certainly be the front-runner.

Ryan Williams, a former aide to Romney’s presidential campaign, said while he hasn’t spoken to Romney directly about a Senate bid, he’d be surprised if he jumped into the race.

“I would at this point be extremely surprised if the governor ran for Senate, but it’s something he won’t rule out because of his strong desire to explore all opportunities in public service,” Williams said.

The former Massachusetts governor has close ties in Utah and has frequently touted his time as CEO of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Committee.

Assuming Romney runs, would he actually champion the carbon-tax proposal, or back down for fear of offending right-wing voters in a primary? It has happened before, of course: In October 2011, Romney disavowed the scientific verdict on human-caused climate change in order to improve his chances to win the 2012 GOP presidential primary–and infamously made fun of President Obama’s efforts to reduce carbon pollution at the 2012 Republican National Convention:

When Romney briefly flirted with another presidential run in early-2015, he once again acknowledged the reality of human-caused climate change. Under pressure from the denialist right, would he not consider flip-flopping again?

As for the prospect of Huntsman running, he famously bucked the denialist trend in his bid for the 2012 presidential nomination, and repeated his call for the GOP to knock it off with denialist nonsense in 2014…but he endorsed Trump in 2016, thus destroying his credibility on this issue. Assuming the Republican Senate primary is won by either Romney or Huntsman, it will be interesting to see how hard the Democratic nominee hits the GOP candidate on the latter’s compromised climate credentials–and whether that Democrat can gain any political traction in the Beehive State by doing so, however unlikely it might seem today.

Speaking of Utah and climate change, I couldn’t help noting this ironic line in a recent Salt Lake Tribune op-ed by Rep. Mia Love (R-UT):

Unfortunately, our toxic political climate threatens our ability to effectively address our physical climate.

Too many individuals and organizations present false choices, pressuring individuals to choose between ideological extremes and inviable options. We don’t need to have either a thriving economy or a clean environment. We can have both. We don’t need to choose between overreaching but inefficient solutions and complete inaction — we should choose neither.

Of course, Romney in 2011 and Huntsman in 2016 aligned themselves with the forces of “complete inaction” on climate. How could either man be trusted not to do it again?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.