Is it too early to imagine the post-Trump Republican Party in Minnesota?
I know. One bad debate performance does not seal Donald Trump’s fate. (Just ask President Mitt Romney.) But one performance as bad as Trump’s last Monday was enough to get me thinking about the rethinking and regrouping that could ensue in Minnesota’s Grand Old Party in the wake of a Trump defeat.
Inspiration was at hand. I’d had a recent visit by David Strom, executive director of the new Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum. That’s an outfit that’s out to make an embrace of wind and solar power politically safe for Republicans — even those who say “I’m not a scientist” before implying that climate change might be an elaborate liberal plot to expand the role of government.
Mind you, the Conservative Energy Forum is not trying to change the minds of Republican climate-change deniers, Strom said. It’s silent on the consensus among the world’s scientists that human activity is making the planet warmer and its weather more extreme. There’s no good reason to engage in that fight, he said.
Amy Koch, the former state Senate majority leader who chairs the forum’s board of directors, added that climate change has “become a political football that prevents us from talking about solutions.”
Let ’em duck. Plenty of other forces are combining to build public acceptance of a human explanation for climate change. Consider the persuasive power of 13 inches of rain in Waseca, Minn., on Sept. 21-22 — the most recent of several “500-year” rain events to drench a Minnesota city or town in the past decade.
My hunch is that Trump will be the last major-party presidential candidate to say, as he did in 2012, that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by China. Already at Monday’s debate, he (falsely) denied he had ever made that claim.
But simply falling silent about climate change likely won’t be sufficient to rebrand Republicans as forward-thinkers about energy. The new Conservative Energy Forum gets that. It seeks to align Minnesota Republicans as allies of the transformation in electricity generation that’s unfolding as wind and solar power become economically competitive with fossil fuels.
“Distributed generation and microgrids are the wave of the future,” Strom said. “They are leading toward a freer market-based system. Why wouldn’t Republicans favor that?”
Koch emphasizes that the forum isn’t advocating for wind and solar energy generation over other sources, provided those sources are affordable, reliable and clean. Rather, she said, “we’re for ‘all of the above.’ ” The forum will push to clear away government regulations that protect or prefer “regulated monopoly utilities” at the expense of individuals who want to make and sell their own electricity with renewable sources.
The forum’s pronouncements cast utility companies in a light latter-day Republicans have typically reserved for big government. Utilities are old-school monopolies operating in an overregulated system that impinges on consumer freedom, the forum either says or implies. Republicans ought to stand with consumers and the environment, not big utilities or fossil-fuel producers, the forum argues.
That would be a departure from the “drill, baby, drill” chant heard in St. Paul at the 2008 Republican National Convention, or the 2016 GOP national convention’s embrace of coal as “an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource” — words that appeared to spring directly from coal industry propaganda.
“Republicans have been guilty of making outdated arguments,” Koch said. Or, in the case of coal, of making an argument about technology that hasn’t arrived. “We’d never say no to clean coal if we could get there, but we’re not there yet. We need to be intellectually honest about that.”
A visible rejection of anti-intellectualism strikes me as a smart move for the post-Trump Minnesota GOP. It ought to rattle the stewards of this state’s Republican Party that many longtime loyalists in well-educated precincts are rejecting their party’s presidential candidate. That’s not a politically sustainable trend in a state whose population ranks among the nation’s best-educated.
A new signal on energy policy isn’t the only one Republicans should want to send Minnesotans after this year’s presidential campaign is in the history books. But if the party is looking to show this state’s voters that it’s taking a new forward-looking tack, touting clean energy might nicely fill that bill.
Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. She is at firstname.lastname@example.org.