Published June 5, 2019
Joe Biden released his climate change action plan yesterday. It was the best campaign gift President Trump could have hoped for.
Action on climate change is a priority for left-leaning voters around the globe. The Democracy Fund Voter Study Group’s polling in 2017 found that climate change and the environment were the top issue priorities for progressives. Looking at all Democratic voters, the Pew Research Center found this year that climate change ranked sixth among issue priorities, with the environment ranking third. With most polls showing Biden weakest among the most liberal Democrats, this move surely will help him in his primary battle.
The problem is that swing voters have very different views about climate change. The Voter Study Group data show that climate change ranked only 12th out of 23 issues for less liberal Democrats and moderates. Pew data from this January found that climate change action was the next-to-last priority among all voters. What excites the left leaves much of middle America cold.
The data are backed up by election results from the United States, Canada and Australia. Washington state is a liberal bastion. It has not voted for a Republican for president, governor or senator since 1994. Yet its voters have now twice rejected ballot measures to institute a minor carbon tax to fight climate change. Australia’s Labor Party shockingly lost an election last month that experts had picked it to win in large part because its climate change policies pushed less-educated and lower-income voters to the conservative opposition. In Canada, Conservative governments in Ontario and Alberta have won elections in the past year in part on pledges to repeal carbon taxes or cap-and-trade plans imposed by their more left-wing predecessors, promises they have kept in office. The progressive left sees climate change as a life-or-death issue, but other voters don’t seem to agree.
Biden’s plan is so aggressive it will give Trump plenty of targets to shoot at. It proposes to spend $1.7 trillion to fight climate change in just the first decade after implementation. It promises to make the United States a net-zero emitter of greenhouse gases by 2050, a promise as ambitious as the one that cost Australia’s Labor party its election. I’m sure Republican analysts are already calculating how many jobs will be lost in key industries under Biden’s plan.
But it gets worse. Because the United States emits only 15 percent of the world’s total greenhouse-gas emissions, battling climate change requires global action. Biden plans to pressure the world’s leading emitter, China, and other developing nations to cut their emissions by imposing “carbon adjustment fees or quotas on carbon-intensive goods” from malingering countries. That’s a fancy name for tariffs, and the level of tariffs that would be needed to force these countries to comply would exceed anything Trump has yet proposed.
Biden’s theory seems to be that tariffs to protect U.S. jobs are bad, but tariffs to combat climate change are good. Somehow I don’t think that will fly in the heartland.
That fact blows a hole in Biden’s main selling point, that his purported moderation and working-class background will help him regain votes among the blue-collar Democrats whose defection elected Trump. A climate plan such as this one easily lets Trump argue that Biden may have been born like you, but he left you for the D.C. liberal swamp long ago. Democrats will cry foul, but if history is any guide, the voters won’t.
Nor does it help that large sections of Biden’s climate plan were lifted verbatim from the websites of groups backing climate change action. Plagiarism is one reason Biden was forced out of his first presidential bid in 1987. This year’s “mistake” already been blamed as inadvertent staff error. No matter. “Sleepy Joe” just became “Sloppy Joe.”
Trump has been attacking Biden on Twitter as a “low IQ individual.” That’s not so, but this plan betrays a severely low political IQ. Winning the primary only to lose the general election is dumb, dumb, dumb.
Henry Olsen is a Washington Post columnist and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.