Wednesday, February 8th 2012, 5:42 PM EST
A long-time source of frustration for many small-government Republicans has been politicians who buy into various subsidies, mandates, restrictions and other big-government “solutions” to speculative or nonexistent energy and environment problems. This frustration has continued throughout the Republican primary season as frontrunners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich each have a history of supporting such big-government energy and environment policies. But the times may be a-changing. Rick Santorum has been emphasizing small-government energy and environment policies in recent weeks and the conservative base is responding.
Most visibly, Santorum is throwing down the gauntlet on global warming. While blasting Obama on global warming, he is also hitting Romney and Gingrich hard on the topic. “Both of them bought into the global warming hoax!” Santorum has taken to saying on the campaign trail and in media interviews.
Santorum’s strategy is powerful for two reasons. First, he has an unassailable record of questioning alarmist global warming claims and opposing carbon dioxide restrictions. Second, he is pressing the issue with a fervor that conveys clear and unmistakable sincerity.
True, Romney and Gingrich have been saying the right things lately on global warming and other energy/environment topics. Small-government Republicans hope they will govern in a manner that is consistent with their recent statements and pledges on these topics. But small-government conservatives have reason to be concerned.
As Governor of Massachusetts, Romney championed and signed into law the toughest carbon dioxide restrictions in the nation. He directed state officials to factor carbon dioxide emissions into land-use decisions and other regulatory mischief. He appointed to highly influential government positions John Holdren and Gina McCarthy, who graduated from their Massachusetts positions to lead the Obama administration’s war on power plants and carbon dioxide emissions. He has chosen as his campaign’s top energy advisors people who have been outspoken supporters of cap-and-trade restrictions, carbon taxes, and Obama administration environmental policies. These things stick in the minds of Republican primary voters. They may hope that Romney really has turned over a new leaf, but they are hesitant to bet their vote on it.
As for Gingrich, he filmed the atrocious global warming commercial with Nancy Pelosi. He wrote A Contract with the Earth. He supports ethanol subsidies and mandates. He wants to hand over to the renewable power industry government revenues from oil and gas production. These are positions that are not generally considered limited-government or conservative.
Santorum has none of that baggage on energy and environment topics. He has consistently voted against ethanol subsidies. He has consistently fought global warming alarmism. He has consistently opposed handing over taxpayer dollars to the renewable power industry.
For pundits who don’t believe this is a powerful issue with Republican primary voters, remember that opposition to the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill in 2009 was the first big issue that took a sizeable chunk out of Obama’s approval rating. Cap-and-trade was in 2009 what Obamacare was in 2010.
When Romney hits Gingrich for filming his global warming commercial with Pelosi, small-government Republicans think, “Sure, but who is Romney to talk?” When Gingrich points out that Romney imposed toughest-in-the-nation carbon dioxide restrictions on Massachusetts power plants, small-government Republicans think, “Sure, but who is Newt to talk?” Santorum doesn’t have these obstacles with small-government conservatives.
Of course, no candidate is perfect and Santorum has other issues that are troublesome to small-government Republicans. But the lesson to be learned here, as Santorum surges in recent primaries due in large part to his willingness and ability to throw down the gauntlet on global warming and related issues, is that politicians champion big-government energy and environment policies at their own peril. Rick Santorum has a clean record on these issues, and he is starting to turn that clean record into political momentum.