“We will renegotiate the Paris Treaty”: Why won’t Republicans defend their own positions on the basis of their own ideology?

We know why Donald Trump is leaving the Paris Climate Treaty.

We know because Trump and his fellow Republicans have said why they oppose government action of climate change/global warming many times before.

“Global warming has been proven to be a canard repeatedly over and over again,” he has stated. It’s a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese “in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” Trump has said.

“We don’t know what’s causing climate change, and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try and reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us,” then-Republican nominee Mitt Romney said in 2012.

Ted Cruz has said that climate change isn’t happening and that pushes to combat climate change are only being undertaken because, “liberal politicians … want government power over the economy, the energy sector and every aspect of our lives.” The idea of climate change is “is not science, it’s religion,” he has said.

Marco Rubio said during a primary debate that climate change has little to do with human activity: “The climate is changing, and one of the reasons the climate is changing is the climate has always been changing.” He later added that even if the U.S. passed laws to combat climate change, “there would be no change in our environment. Sea level would still rise.”

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has said, “I’m not a scientist. I’m interested in protecting Kentucky’s economy.”

EPA Director Scott Pruitt has long opposed government regulations on the environment, filing multiple suits against environmental regulations as attorney general of Oklahoma, because he felt those regulations were burdensome and hurt the economy. In order to create jobs, he said at a public event, the U.S. needed to “make sure the EPA is not being onerous upon the energy companies in this country.”

I list all of these statements by influential Republicans and members of the Trump administration to say one thing: We know why Trump and the Republicans wanted to leave the Paris treaty. And it wasn’t for the reasons they are saying now.

The mainstream Republican view, shared by the vast majority of Republican officials who have gone on the record, and the view by which they, as a party, take actions is that they oppose most new environmental regulations because they want to leave the economy as free as possible from regulation. They believe large scale environmental regulations hurt the economy. About global warming in particular, they believe one or more of the following viewpoints: that global warming isn’t happening; that it isn’t caused mostly by humans, or at least we don’t know enough to say it is with certainty; that, at any rate, human-led efforts can’t make much of a difference if it is happening; and that any kind of effort that would theoretically make a difference would be too economically destructive to pursue.

Trump and other Republicans could go out and say those views clearly today as their justification for leaving the Paris Treaty. They have done so in the past, as I showed with just a few. But instead the Trump administration and many of his allies have chosen to argue against the Paris Treaty with sophistry and arguments they themselves don’t believe in.

He began by saying, “I would like to begin by addressing the terrorist attack in Manila.” From the start he was spewing untruths. There was no terrorist attack in Manila. It was an attempted casino robbery, according to the Philippine police. At the time when he was speaking, there was some uncertainty about exactly what was happening, but claiming terrorism when one doesn’t know is irresponsible.

By the time he got to the meat of his speech–after a few paragraphs of self-congratulatory tripe about “keeping promises” and “creating jobs”–it only took him two sentences (0, if you believe “Thank you. Thank you,” not to count as sentences) from the time he announced his intention to leave the Paris Treaty to the time he announced his intention to renegotiate the Paris Treaty.

Therefore, in order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.

Thank you. Thank you.

But begin negotiations to re-enter, either the Paris Accord or in, really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we’re getting out. But will we start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.

Trump’s White House advisors even insisted to the media Trump was “sincere” in his desire to renegotiate a deal to stop what Trump thinks is an imaginary problem. One has to be incredibly gullible or incredibly insincere to make such a claim.

South Koreans who recall Trump once threatened to renegotiate the South Korea-US Free Trade Agreement, or to make South Korea pay entirely for THAAD, may doubt Trump’s sincerity about moving forward with “negotiations to re-enter.”

And rightfully so. Why would Trump want to enter an agreement that binds the U.S. to terms that might impact the economy when Trump and his EPA director don’t think global warming or climate change is a problem? That would be, in the view of Republicans, taking an economic hit for nothing. (even if the 190 other countries suddenly decided to give America special treatment in a new deal…)

Later in his speech Trump did go down the list of alleged economic damage he thinks this treaty will impose. Production in various industries would decline, he claimed. He said steel production would drop by 38 percent, coal by 86 percent–“and I happen to love coal miners.” (He didn’t mention that demand for coal is declining because of increasing costs even with the U.S. not a party to any climate treaties.)

“The cost to the economy at this time would be close to three trillion dollars in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs,” he said.

There’s no way to accurately predict possible costs of such a treaty so far into the future. Certainly, any treaty that calls for a government to spend money on green energy and to take measures to limit fossil fuel use would almost certainly have some impact on the economy over some time frames. But that’s just why the Republicans would never enter into a meaningful climate treaty–any treaty that would do much of anything would have claimed economic consequences much larger than Republicans would be okay with.

Since most Republicans don’t believe climate change is an urgent problem–only 16 percent of conservative Republicans think there is a scientific consensus, compared to 70 percent of Democrats (Pew survey, 2016), and most influential Republicans in elected office have said they don’t think it is an urgent problem–almost any potential cost would be considered excessive to the nature of the problem.

Given that Republicans oppose any measure that is too burdensome, the next argument you hear from some Republicans is disingenuous: that the treaty wouldn’t do enough. Republicans don’t want a treaty that would do much more–they don’t even want this one–because it would cost the economy even more!

This is similar to arguments Republicans have made of late against healthcare, welfare, and other issues. Just three days ago, Donald Trump tweeted, “I suggest that we add more dollars to Healthcare and make it the best anywhere.”

Trump supports a Republican healthcare bill that cuts healthcare spending. It cuts the amount of money paid out to the poor to help them afford health insurance and cuts Medicaid. The reason is because Republicans don’t want the government to have too much of a role in healthcare, or other aspects of the economy, and don’t think it is fair to force everyone to pay for goods or services consumed by other people. They could make a principled case for their position, but instead they try to deflect and argue rhetorically for a position they don’t believe in.

We know the parties by their actions.
Republicans opposed cap and trade legislation to cut carbon during Obama’s term. They opposed Obama’s clean energy plan. The Republican-led Congress pushed resolutions to stop it. Their attorney generals in the various states sued the Obama government over many environmental regulation plans.

Now in the healthcare bill, the Republicans included provisions allowing for states to opt-out of protections on those with preexisting conditions and other mandates, while saying they wanted to protect everyone with preexisting conditions. What they want to do is free up the markets, as they see it.

Nothing in my description of Republican actions on the environment and healthcare is intended as a criticism of the Republican positions. I am merely stating the facts of what they did and why they did it. The criticism is in their using false pretexts for defending their actions. There are cases that could be made, based on the principles and ideology they believe in, for each of the actions they took. They just don’t want to put in the effort.