The question posed to the eight Republican candidates on Milwaukee’s debate stage Wednesday night was simple: Raise your hand if you believe human behavior is causing climate change.
But the answer quickly devolved when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis interrupted moderator Martha MacCallum.
“We’re not schoolchildren. Let’s have a debate,” he said, before launching into an attack on President Biden’s disaster response.
Then Vivek Ramaswamy jumped in: “I’m the only one on this stage who isn’t bought and paid for, so I can say this — the climate change agenda is a hoax,” he said. His answer was swallowed by the crowd’s booing.
Never Back Down, a political action committee that supports DeSantis, posted a video clip Wednesday night showing Ramaswamy acknowledging climate change in previous interviews.
“I’m not denying the underlying reality that global surface temperatures are going up, and in part due to human activity,” he said in the clip.
The changing climate, and humans’ role in accelerating the planet’s warming, is a widely accepted truth among climate scientists, and even among a majority of Americans.
But it has proved to be divisive along party lines. Most Democrats and independents agree climate change presents a major threat, but 70% of Republicans say it’s a minor threat or no threat at all, according to a poll this month by NPR, “PBS NewsHour” and Marist. Another poll by Pew says virtually the same thing.
On the Republican debate stage, only one candidate raised his hand: Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. And even he quickly lowered it once DeSantis started talking. Hutchinson didn’t get a chance to speak about the question becasue the conversation further devolved into a spat between Ramaswamy and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
After several minutes of sparring among candidates, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley responded with the first affirmative: “First of all, yes. Is climate change real? Yes, it is,” she said, before attacking China and India for their emissions.
The question came from Alexander Diaz, a Catholic University student and member of the conservative organization Young America’s Foundation. In an interview after the debate, Diaz, 21, said he was “disappointed” by Ramaswamy’s response, but hoped to hear more from candidates on environmental and energy issues.
As a native Arizonan, Diaz said he has always cared about protecting the environment and its natural resources.
“You ask any American … they don’t deny the fact that it’s hotter than it’s been. The forest fires are worse, and we can debate specifically what causes those,” Diaz said. “I think a lot of young people are looking for leaders that are willing to kind of jump on using all the resources that America has — our bountiful land and wind and solar and nuclear — using all of that to make ourselves the No. 1 leader in energy production anywhere.”
A dial poll conducted by progressive group Navigator Research showed support dropped in response to Ramaswamy’s statement. The real-time poll was conducted among 33 independents and “soft partisans,” said Ian Smith, Navigator’s director of polling and analytics. “When Nikki Haley came out and said that climate change was real, our dials were far more positive.”