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Climate Denial Reaches Its Peak at First Republican Presidential Debate

“This sums up the Republican Party at this point,” says The Nation's national affairs correspondent John Nichols.

On the same day a heat wave forced Milwaukee, Wisconsin, public schools to close for the day, moderators at the first Republican presidential debate in the city asked candidates if they believed climate change was caused by human activity. Their answers ranged from avoidance to outright denial. “I think this sums up the Republican Party at this point,” says John Nichols, national affairs correspondent at The Nation. “The moderate position in the Republican Party is avoidance, but I think a very … popular position within the party is one of actual denial.” Nichols added that the heat index was 114 degrees in Milwaukee on the day of the debate. “We saw peak climate denial in a Republican debate, and it’s kind of amazing at this late stage in history.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: At last night’s debate in Milwaukee, Republican presidential candidates were also asked about the climate crisis. This was on a day when the heat in Milwaukee forced the closing of the Milwaukee schools. During the debate, Fox News played a question from Alexander Diaz, a student at Catholic University of America.

ALEXANDER DIAZ: Polls consistently show that young people’s number one issue is climate change. How will you, as both president of the United States and leader of the Republican Party, calm their fears that the Republican Party doesn’t care about climate change?

MARTHA MacCALLUM: So, we want to start on this with a show of hands. Do you believe in human behavior is causing climate change? Raise your hand if you do.

GOV. RON DESANTIS: Look, we’re not schoolchildren. Let’s have the debate. I mean, I’m happy to take it to start, Alexander.

MARTHA MacCALLUM: OK. You know what?

BRET BAIER: So, do you want to raise your hand or not?

GOV. RON DESANTIS: I don’t think that’s the way to do. So, let me just say to Alexander this: First of all, one of the reasons our country’s decline is because of the way the corporate media treats Republicans versus Democrats. Biden was on the beach while those people were suffering. He was asked about it. He said, “No comment.” Are you kidding me? As somebody that’s handled disasters in Florida, you’ve got to be activated. You’ve got to be there. You’ve got to be present. You’ve got to be helping people who are doing this.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: Can we stop the filibuster and answer the question?


GOV. RON DESANTIS: And here’s the deal —

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: Let’s just answer the question, actually.

BRET BAIER: Is that a “yes”? Is that a “yes”? Is that a hand raised?

MARTHA MacCALLUM: You do not —

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: I think it was a hand raised for him. And it’s — my hands are in my pockets, because the climate change agenda is a hoax.

GOV. RON DESANTIS: No, I didn’t raise a hand.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: Let us be honest as Republicans. I’m the only person on the stage who isn’t bought and paid for, so I can say this: The climate change agenda is a hoax.

ASA HUTCHINSON: Oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s ridiculous.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: The climate change agenda is a hoax, and we have to declare independence from them. And the reality is, the anti-carbon agenda is the wet blanket on our economy. And so, the reality is, more people are dying of bad climate change policies than they are of actual climate change.

BRET BAIER: Governor, Governor Haley, are you bought and paid for?

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: The death rate is down by 98% over the last century.

BRET BAIER: Hold on. Hold on. Listen. Listen. Listen.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Look, I’ve had — no, no, no. I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT standing up here. And the last person in one of these debates, Bret, who stood in the middle of the stage and said, “What’s a skinny guy with an odd last name doing up here?” was Barack Obama, and I’m afraid we’re dealing with the same type of amateur standing on stage tonight.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: Well, come over here. Come over and give me a hug. Give me a hug just like you did to Obama.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: The same — the same type of amateur.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY: And you’ll help elect me just like you did to Obama, too. Give me that bear hug, brother.

CHRIS CHRISTIE: The same type of amateur.

BRET BAIER: Hold on. Hold on. Governor Haley, would you like to respond? Are you bought and paid for?

NIKKI HALEY: So, Bret, what I would like to say is the fact that I think this is exactly why Margaret Thatcher said, “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.” First of all, we do care about clean air, clean water. We want to see that taken care of. But there’s a right way to do it. And the right way to do it is, first of all, yes, is climate change real? Yes, it is. But if you want to go and really change the environment, then we need to start telling China and India that they have to lower their emissions.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who was the South Carolina governor. John Nichols, very quickly, before we move on to foreign policy?

JOHN NICHOLS: Sure. Look, we saw peak climate denial in a Republican debate, and it’s kind of amazing at this late stage in history that it was, A, stated and, B, even on the candidates who weren’t quite as aggressive as Ramaswamy, there was avoidance. And you noticed that in that clip you played, the candidates immediately tried to go off to other topics to talk about whether they were bought and paid for, to talk about China, to talk about Russia, rather than to focus in on the issue that was raised.

And I think this sums up the Republican Party at this point. The moderate position in the Republican party is avoidance. But I think a very strong position is — you know, a very popular position within the party is one of actual denial. And you saw a candidate on stage go full board on that, which was quite remarkable, especially on a day when, literally, the heat index was 114 degrees in Milwaukee.

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