Our sister organization, C3 Action, endorsed Nikki Haley for president today. In the statement, I argued:
No candidate is better equipped to tackle today’s set of vexing climate and energy issues than Nikki Haley. She has the courage, vision, grit, experience, and discipline to both counter the radical, degrowth environmental left while also clearly defining what conservatives should be for. We’re proud to endorse her for president.
As the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Governor of South Carolina, Haley will be a leader on day one. She’ll defend capitalism on the world stage, remove barriers to energy innovation, and embrace an ‘all of the above’ energy policy so that American families have affordable, reliable power. Haley will promote energy abundance over energy poverty, and the world will be more secure and cleaner as a result. Haley will be a tireless champion for economic freedom, understanding that economic freedom is a prerequisite for emissions reduction. As C3 Solutions has shown, free economies are twice as clean as less free economies.
Our endorsement comes at a time when the conservative movement is divided into two camps. One camp argues that uttering the word “climate” is disqualifying and makes someone “liberal” or guilty of helping “the left.” The other camp argues that talking about “climate” creates an opportunity to win a generational argument by highlighting the superiority of conservative principles like economic freedom, which does far more to reduce emissions than the left’s top-down command and control schemes. One camp appeals to tribalism while the other aspires to be rooted in truth. We are in the latter camp, and we intend to win. Regardless of how you measure climate risk, the stakes in this debate are enormous. Playing the tribal game cedes the high ground to the radical degrowth left, which puts our free enterprise system and national security at risk.
Sadly, in campaigns, demagogic and tribal arguments can have more potency than facts and truth. But short-term pandering creates long-term costs. The fight to repeal and replace Obamacare, for instance, generated short-term wins for the GOP at the expense of forging a consensus around a durable long-term solution. The GOP invested 90 percent of its time describing what it was against and ten percent describing what it was for. If we don’t fight the battle to define what conservatives should be for in the climate and energy space now, then who will and when? In politics, the perfect political moment for courage is a mirage that’s always just beyond the horizon of the next election. The time to be courageous is now. Capitulating and appeasing demagogues doesn’t reduce the costs of confrontation; it multiplies them.
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We’re already seeing members like Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) being smeared for allegedly wanting to “pull Republicans to the left” because he successfully persuaded 83 of his colleagues to join the Conservative Climate Caucus. The caucus exists to make the case that conservative solutions (and no brainer policies like permitting reform) are more effective at reducing emissions than progressive principles. Curtis is moving Republicans to the right, not the left, and positioning them for long term electoral and policy success.
Now, some Republicans may well want to pull Republicans to the left on climate, but we certainly do not, and I am 100 percent confident Haley does not either. If any candidate seems intent on pulling Republicans to the left, it is former President Donald Trump. Even if you set aside Trump’s essential anti-conservatism and the naked authoritarianism he’s exhibited by refusing to concede an election he admittedly knew he lost, his second term agenda on not just climate and energy, but all fronts, could be a chaotic leftist orgy of top-down executive orders, tariffs, industrial policy, subsidies for technologies he likes and harassment for technologies he doesn’t. As I explained in my recent piece on Freedom Conservatism, Trump is very comfortable in the Axis of Illiberalism that dominates much of our current politics.
Still, on climate and energy, Trump deserves credit for emissions reductions during his term. He wisely let his accomplished advisors lower regulatory burdens which helped increase supply and promote innovation.
I have no such confidence in a second Trump term. He’s sending troubling signals on two key fronts: government spending and the administrative state.
In 2024, America desperately needs a president who will prioritize fiscal restraint and who understands that debt and interest payments have a drag effect on growth. Fiscal policy and climate policy don’t exist in separate silos. They are intertwined. We need to recycle government waste, not create more, and keep as much capital in the private sector as possible so companies can grow, innovate, and have the luxury of investing in cleaner technologies.
Haley does not need to be convinced on this point. She gets it. Trump does not. A very senior Trump economic advisor admitted an obvious truth to me after he lost. He said, Trump “doesn’t care about this stuff.” This “stuff” meaning government spending and its real-world opportunity costs, which is the essence of governance.
Trump didn’t just increase our national debt by $8 trillion, he worked with Republicans and Democrats (i.e. the uniparty he vilifies) to bring back earmarks, betraying his own conservative base. Trump has also pulled the Republican Party very far to the left on entitlements, which are the biggest driver of our debt and deficits. Like Biden and most Democrats, Trump is a deficit denier who believes Social Security and Medicare benefits for seniors will be secured by wishful thinking rather than hard choice. The impacts of that perspective on our economy are enormous. Every dollar we waste on interest payments (which are a bailout for politicians who refuse to make hard choices) is a dollar not available for energy innovation.
On spending, Haley has much more in common with my former boss, the late U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, than Trump. As president, she’ll reinstate Coburn’s earmark ban Trump reversed and go agency by agency and program by program to eliminate what’s not working, while demanding excellence and a measurable return for every taxpayer dollar.
While Trump inveighs against “the swamp” and the “deep state,” he has never set forth any serious plan to do the real work to reform federal agencies and the administrative state, reduce the size of government, and save taxpayer dollars. Trump’s plan to conduct a Soviet-style personnel purge will produce costly chaos.
Summarily firing “bureaucrats” who know which bridges are structurally deficient might feel invigorating to faux conservatives until bridges collapse. And let’s assume for the sake of argument that there is a limited federal role for energy research and development. Replacing people at the Department of Energy who can distinguish the next Solyndra from the next Space X with campaign loyalists won’t help America become energy dominant. If taxpayer dollars are on the line, shouldn’t we have people in place who can tell the difference between a potential boondoggle and breakthrough? Swapping out every “deep state” bureaucrat with a Trump loyalist won’t cut spending by a dime and will probably result in far more waste and inefficiency than we have today.
To be clear, I’m still convinced that President Reagan’s Grace Commission had it right when they said federal spending could be cut by a third. But Haley is far more likely to do the work necessary to make that happen than Trump. Rooting out waste requires competence more than fealty and a president who is willing to spend political capital to create a culture of fact-based and rigorous oversight. That “stuff” bores Trump, but it’s exhilarating for Haley (and voters).
Elections are about choices and the contrasts between Haley and her primary competition couldn’t be clearer. Trump is the candidate of chaos and riots. Haley is the candidate of competence and reform.
Let’s hope voters choose wisely.