As the dust settles from the heinous attack on the U.S. Capitol and President Joe Biden settles into his first week in office, conservatives find themselves addressing — perhaps sooner than some anticipated — the reality of a Republican Party that many do not recognize anymore.
Others, buoyed by better-than-expected results in November, are enthusiastic about the direction of the party.
Regardless of one’s feelings on former President Donald Trump, it is impossible not to acknowledge that he built coalitions of voters that the GOP has not seen for some time. Compared to the 2016 election, Trump grew his share of the non-white voters by 5%, grew his share of the black male vote by 6% and the black and Hispanic/Latino female vote by 5%.
A ‘twin killer’ for the GOP
But these gains are not in a vacuum. Recent election cycles have yielded a “twin killer” for the GOP: Suburban populations are increasing, but the vote share for the GOP among suburban voters is decreasing. These losses more than offset the modest gains among people of color.
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And, they are fixable in a post-Trump GOP.
For example: Suburban, millennial and Gen-Z voters overwhelmingly acknowledge climate change and demonstrate support for increasing clean energy policies.
A recent poll of voters conducted by Public Opinion Strategies (a Republican polling firm) found that 83 percent of all voters support increasing development of the country’s clean energy infrastructure, and 80 percent are more likely to support candidates who back clean energy development. Moreover, 81 percent of voters support some level of government action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy. When accounting for party, an unsurprising 81 percent of independents support this proposition, but, significantly, so do 61 percent of Republicans.
A matter of survival
These numbers confirm that clean energy is no longer a “nice-to-have” issue for conservative candidates; it must become part of the Republican Party’s core messaging platform as a matter of survival.
What’s more, conservatives do not have to sacrifice our values in order to support clean energy. Unlike past efforts, increased development of renewable energy no longer requires government mandates. This aligns with what the voters want: 70 percent of voters in the Public Opinion Strategies poll prefer approaches that allow markets and businesses to drive clean energy production. The marketplace is already moving in this direction: We have seen increasing numbers of coal-fired power plants closing in recent years, not due to environmental concerns but because they are no longer profitable to operate.
Given this preference, conservatives are the only cohort that stands a shot at getting this right. We inherently understand that markets are the best – and fairest – way to allocate scarce resources.
Technology innovation and efficiency continue to drive the cost of clean energy lower so that it is competitive with traditional fossil resources. We no longer need to decide between clean or affordable energy; it should be both – and it already is.
I have been a Trump-skeptical Republican voter from the start. I think that No. 45 got a lot wrong during his tenure — and the events that transpired at his urging this month are beyond the pale. However, outside of the first week of January, energy is the issue on which Trump may have been the most wrong. These figures demonstrate that Trump was not only badly out of tune on clean energy with critical swing voters, but that he was not even well-aligned with his own base supporters’ opinions. If Trump had made fewer mistakes that positioned him against the majority of voters, perhaps he would have won reelection. This is a message Minnesota Republicans should heed, as it would likely allow them to continue to make gains — or even win — the Minnesota House, Senate, and governorship.
A way to modernize the party’s image
Conservative candidates and Republican legislators can ill afford to miss the opportunity to aggressively pursue platforms and policies that lead on clean energy issues. Not only is this good practice for Minnesota’s economy and environment, but it is a key mechanism to build back support that the GOP has undeniably lost in the suburbs and among younger voters. It is an essential issue for conservatives going forward, a way to modernize the Republican Party’s image, and bring in new voters to build necessary coalitions to win in the future.
Benjamin L. Gerber is a former director of energy and labor policy for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, an energy attorney, board member of the Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum, and believer that we can always do better.
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