The media is awash with articles and opinion pieces that focus on the shortcomings of and dangers for the Democratic Party as we approach the 2020 presidential election. Comparatively few pieces are written about the risks and problems Donald Trump is creating for himself and for the Republican Party. The same can be said for the analysis of the European Union’s parliamentary elections that concluded this past weekend. More emphasis is being placed on the warning signs for the left than for the right.
To some extent, people will find trouble only where they’re looking for it, but I believe both of America’s major parties should be concerned about the results from Europe, and probably in about equal degree. In country after country, Europe’s voters punished their establishment parties, although the details differed from place to place. In the United Kingdom, the Conservative (Tory) Party was decimated, while in Germany it was the center-left Social Democratic Party that took the brunt of the abuse. In Northern Europe, the Green Party was the main beneficiary of defections from the left. It came in second place in Germany and third place in France. Exit polls showed that climate was at or near the top of voters’ concerns, especially among youthful generations. They did not feel that their established left-wing parties were addressing the issue adequately, and unlike in America, they were free to vote for the Greens without it automatically benefitting the right. That’s the advantage of proportional representation. For the first time, the center-right and center-left coalitions will not constitute a majority of the E.U.’s parliament, which means that the Greens will be part of Europe’s government.
America’s Democratic Party should take note that, given the option, the youth vote abandoned the center. Climate was a major motivator for them, but so was the economy. The center-left parties had become too associated with austerity policies. If the Democrats are hoping to play it safe with their nominee and believe that American millennials will turn out for their candidate out of opposition to Trump, they have to be at least a little concerned about how the millennials of Europe expressed their political preferences and priorities.
On the other hand, turnout was very high in Europe, and the American left knows it can’t flirt with third parties again without risking a second term for the president. This is because we don’t have proportional representation. It could be that 2020 will have record-high turnout and record-low third party voting.
The message for the Republican Party should be at least as dire. Young voters were extremely motivated on the issue of climate, which suggests that new voters will turn out and punish the party that denies the science of climate change. On that front, the Trump administration is moving in a very perilous direction.
President Trump has rolled back environmental regulations, pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, brushed aside dire predictions about the effects of climate change, and turned the term “global warming” into a punch line rather than a prognosis.
Now, after two years spent unraveling the policies of his predecessors, Mr. Trump and his political appointees are launching a new assault.
In the next few months, the White House will complete the rollback of the most significant federal effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, initiated during the Obama administration. It will expand its efforts to impose Mr. Trump’s hard-line views on other nations, building on his retreat from the Paris accord and his recent refusal to sign a communiqué to protect the rapidly melting Arctic region unless it was stripped of any references to climate change.
And, in what could be Mr. Trump’s most consequential action yet, his administration will seek to undermine the very science on which climate change policy rests.
Specifically, the administration is introducing a new policy that aims to undercut alarming reporting from government scientists.
The attack on science is underway throughout the government. In the most recent example, the White House-appointed director of the United States Geological Survey, James Reilly, a former astronaut and petroleum geologist, has ordered that scientific assessments produced by that office use only computer-generated climate models that project the impact of climate change through 2040, rather than through the end of the century, as had been done previously.
Scientists say that would give a misleading picture because the biggest effects of current emissions will be felt after 2040. Models show that the planet will most likely warm at about the same rate through about 2050. From that point until the end of the century, however, the rate of warming differs significantly with an increase or decrease in carbon emissions.
The president is relying not only on petroleum geologists, but also on people funded heavily by Robert and Rebekah Mercer. The Mercers are perhaps the most generous funders of climate change denial “research” and “science.” They have backed not only National Security Adviser John Bolton but also Princeton professor William Happer. We first took notice of Prof. Happer at the Washington Monthly in 2013, when we mocked an editorial he co-wrote with Harrison Schmitt for the Wall Street Journal that praised the benefits of higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Happer is now leading the government’s reporting on climate change:
However, the goal of political appointees in the Trump administration is not just to change the climate assessment’s methodology, which has broad scientific consensus, but also to question its conclusions by creating a new climate review panel. That effort is led by a 79-year-old physicist who had a respected career at Princeton but has become better known in recent years for attacking the science of man-made climate change and for defending the virtues of carbon dioxide — sometimes to an awkward degree.
“The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler,” said the physicist, William Happer, who serves on the National Security Council as the president’s deputy assistant for emerging technologies.
With the Trump administration going to these extremes to prevent any action to combat climate change, it’s a safe bet that they’ll invite a backlash from younger voters. If they also inspire higher than normal turnout, the combination could be lethal to Trump’s reelection prospects and also to many of the GOP’s downticket candidates.
Perhaps this is why Steve Bannon is not supportive of Prof. Happer’s efforts.
Even Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House strategist who views Mr. Happer as “the climate hustler’s worst nightmare — a world-class physicist from the nation’s leading institution of advanced learning, who does not suffer fools gladly,” is apprehensive about what Mr. Happer is trying to do.
“The very idea will start a holy war on cable before 2020,” he said. “Better to win now and introduce the study in the second inaugural address.”
We’ve seen some new warning signs on the right in the past week. First we had Pat Robertson announcing that Alabama’s anti-choice legislation went too far, and now we have Bannon saying that the Trump administration’s anti-climate moves are too politically risky.
So far, the Republicans don’t seem to be changing course or moderating their policies despite the signs that they’re creating political dangers for themselves. To me, this is at least as big of a story as any risks the Democrats are taking.