Five Republicans will take the stage in Miami Wednesday night for the third Republican presidential debate. The debate comes as we, at C3 Solutions, are releasing our 2024 Candidate Briefing Book entitled “The Climate Opportunity.” Our book is an integrated communications and policy guide designed to help candidates run toward, rather than from, climate and energy issues. We view the conversation about climate change as a generational opportunity to apply timeless freedom principles to a debate that could determine the fate of capitalism and already has major implications for not just American prosperity and security, but global poverty and security.
A key lesson I’ve learned from working on and around campaigns for 25 years is that setting priorities is foundational. Campaigns are about choices. Voters obviously make choices between candidates, but the outcome is often decided by choices made within campaigns. In a world of limited bandwidth, short attention spans, and intense competition for that attention, separating the very best and most essential arguments from the merely good arguments is critically important. Winning candidates think deeply and strategically about a few key questions: What is my primary message? What argument am I trying to win? What will move the needle? What message is worth putting money behind? Campaigns that fail to create this hierarchy don’t get very far while those that do go on to change policy, sometimes for generations.
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Nikki Haley’s campaign surged after the first debate and continues to build momentum because she and her campaign has a clear sense of what’s essential. The essential, according to Haley, is freedom. In a September speech her campaign calls her “Economic Freedom Speech” she described freedom as “America’s secret weapon” and the key to overcoming any challenge before us.
Our briefing book applies a similar “essentials” framework to climate and energy issues in the following way.
Campaigns stumble when they set the wrong priorities and major in the minors. A key decision tree for conservatives is the choice between “owning the libs” and “persuading the libs.”
In the climate and energy debate, it is very easy to “own the libs.” Protestors who glue themselves to streets, throw soup on art and insist the world is going to end unless policymakers submit to a long list of collectivist demands that have nothing to do with climate make it very easy to ridicule the opposition. Make no mistake, opposing bad arguments and policies is important, but it’s a mistake to make that the priority message.
The first presidential debate tested these approaches in real time. Vivek Ramaswamy offered a classic “own the libs” message by arguing that the “climate agenda is a hoax,” while Nikki Haley chose the route of persuasion. Rather than denying or diminishing the risk of climate change, Haley simply said it’s real (our first two words) and then offered a comment in agreement with our other four words when she argued that you can’t tackle climate change without addressing emissions from China. Respondents applauded Haley while they booed Ramaswamy.
Thankfully, other conservatives are rejecting the folly of “owning the libs.” One example is the House Conservative Climate Caucus. The caucus, launched just two years ago in 2021, is among the largest in Congress with 84 members, one-third of the GOP caucus.
Caucus Chairman and Representative John Curtis (R-UT) is profoundly correct when he notes, “The same policy that is best for our environment is the same policy that is also best for national security, energy independence, agriculture and our economy.”
As we argue in our briefing book, the essence of that policy is economic freedom. Free economies are twice as clean as less free economies. The faster candidates pivot to making the case for economic freedom, and avoid lower priority fights, the better.