NASHUA, N.H. — This weekend in New Hampshire, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who said he’ll make a decision soon on a presidential run, said he believes God made the Earth adaptable to withstand climate change.
As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie waffled on the issue, saying climate change was real but the solutions were ambiguous, a questioner said he needed a “better answer.” Across the street from the site of the First National Leadership Summit on Friday, protesters from the left-leaning environmental group NextGen Climate targeted the GOP candidates.
“You just want me to have your answer,” Christie replied.
It was a familiar, terse moment for candidates from a party that is struggling to grapple with how to satisfy both a base that believes the federal government should get out of the business of greenhouse gas regulation, as well as a growing and more diverse electorate that thinks the U.S. should lead on the issue of climate change.
One group that was at the summit doesn’t believe that’s impossible, or that protecting the environment is or should be a partisan issue.
“There’s a broader spectrum of support,” said James Dozier, the executive director of the group Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, which brands itself on advocating a common-sense approach on energy.
“There are a lot of folks out there who want to make this a black and white issue — whether you believe in climate change or whether you don’t. What we’re saying is, no matter what you believe, no one believes people should pollute just to pollute. That we can’t have this energy source for no reason.”
Dozier keeps pointing to the polling numbers. He notes the fact that 53 percent of Republican voters favor the federal government taking steps to reduce emissions of gases like carbon dioxide. And 70 percent of GOP voters believe it’s possible for a politician to be both pro-environment and pro-limited government.
Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions bills itself as conservative, as it did here for two days during a summit that featured no fewer than 18 potential GOP candidates for president. But it’s trying to push candidates into supporting things like alternative-energy solutions while making the U.S. more “energy independent.”
That message might conflict with some of the candidates who spoke in the ballroom of the Crown Plaza a few feet away from the group’s exhibit. These Republicans openly expressed skepticism about whether climate change is real or whether it’s a result of man-made activity.
But polls have shown that climate change is more personal for minority populations, especially Latinos, as well as millennial voters. The Republican Party is trying to attract all of those demographics to improve from overall dreadful performances with the subgroups in the 2012 presidential election.
“The issue of climate change and clean energy is one that the party can start to build that narrative that is attractive to younger millennial voters and minority communities as well,” Dozier said. “I think it’s an appealing message across the board. At the end of the day, it’s not going to boil down to one issue. It’s going to be a host of issues. We think this is one that can be positive, and one that can be put in that broader narrative to attract new voters to our party.”
Some comments, like those of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, were surprisingly moderate to some in the audience. But Bush qualified his comment noting “concern” for the fact that the “climate is changing” by saying he was “more concerned” about the effect of policy changes on the economy.
"I’m more concerned about the hollowing out of our country," Bush said at an event in Manchester on Friday. "The hollowing out of our industrial core, the hollowing out of our ability to compete in an increasingly competitive world.
“We need to restore our competitive posture, which I think our energy revolution will allow us to do — and, simultaneously with that, be cognizant of the fact that we have this climate-change issue and we need to negotiate with the rest of the world a way to reduce carbon emissions.”
Dozier said comments like Bush’s were important and that they would reinforce that being pro-energy and environmentally conscious aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
The group has also pumped the work of politicians like U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), who spoke at the summit on Saturday and is considered a top contender for GOP vice presidential spot.
“I think what candidates tend to want to do is argue about the science, as opposed to talking about what they would do. Energy is an economic issue, it’s a national-security issue, and it has an environmental impact,” Dozier said.
“I’d like Republican candidates and conservative candidates to frame energy in a way that builds a common-values platform. Protect our homeland, bring new energy to the market, and we are stewards of God’s creation. We have a responsibility to keep it the way we found it: Pristine.”
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.