Ted Cruz doesn’t believe in man-made climate change or the science behind it. So while diplomats in Paris attempt to negotiate an international deal to fight global warming, Cruz is in Washington railing against mainstream climate science and “partisan dogma and ideology.”
On Tuesday, Cruz invited scientists who doubt the scientific consensus that climate change is real and driven by human activity to Capitol Hill to testify at a congressional hearing titled “Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth’s Climate.”
The skeptical message won’t sit well with the vast majority of climate scientists. But it’s likely to resonate with conservatives. That’s strategic: Cruz’s climate hearing wasn’t just a chance to talk about global warming. It was an opportunity for the Republican presidential contender to portray climate change as a flashpoint in a larger clash between liberals and conservatives—a chance to advance a narrative of “us” versus “them.” It arrives at a moment when Cruz is fighting to win votes in the midst of a crowded 2016 field.
If you were to ask American voters what they care about most, few would place climate change at the top of the list. The economy, jobs, national security, and terrorism are far more important to voters than the gradual warming of the planet. But at a moment when Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has struck a chord by suggesting that America is under threat, Cruz is styling himself as a defender of open inquiry fighting against fanatical ideology.
During the hearing, environmentalists were denounced as “global warming alarmists.” The media was assigned blame for failing to air dissent. Skeptical scientists spoke of a “chilling effect” at universities and backlash against anyone who denies mainstream scientific consensus.
“Many in the media reflexively take the side of the global warming alarmists,” Cruz declared, adding: “Public policy should follow science and evidence and data.”
The presidential contender has staked out a position on climate change to the right of many of his rivals—even in a Republican field dominated by candidates who question the consensus that human activity is the primary driver of global warming. Most Republican candidates acknowledge that the planet is warming, but say they cannot be certain how much of that is the result of human activity. In contrast, Cruz takes every opportunity to reject claims of planetary warming altogether. He frequently says that satellite data shows that “there has been no significant global warming for the past 18 years.”
Framing the debate as a fight between the right and the left allows Cruz to appeal to Americans who distrust big-government Democrats: “The radical left loves attacking people as anti-science when anyone dares question their computer models on global warming,” Cruz said in March at the Iowa Agriculture Summit. That kind of rhetoric is likely to appeal to disaffected Republican voters.
After all, Cruz’s pushback against the notion that global warming poses a serious threat lines up with conservative sentiment. A Gallup poll released in April found that conservative Republicans were the only category of voters where a majority did not believe that the impact of global warming would be felt within their lifetime.
And of course, the senator’s anti-science stand is timed for maximum effect. With United Nations climate talks currently underway in Paris and the White House pushing for the strongest possible global deal, Cruz has put the spotlight on skepticism and his own dissenting views. Congressional Republicans have attempted to thwart a Paris agreement by undermining international confidence in the president’s climate agenda. By focusing on climate science, Cruz draws an even sharper contrast with the administration and positions himself as a conservative purist.
It’s not good science, but it might be good politics.