GOPer: Why we don't talk about climate change

Does Trump believe in global warming?
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  • Douglas Heye: Trump aides likely telling truth about not talking to him about climate change
  • Since it's not a critical issue for voters, it's not a priority for the Republican Party

Douglas Heye is a CNN political commentator and former deputy chief of staff to then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)In the days since President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, reporters have asked every administration official they can about Trump's personal views on climate change. Often, they have expressed surprise when officials, such as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt, have said they have never discussed the issue with the President.

It can't be true, we're told, incredulously. The media -- and Democrats -- talk about the issue all the time. Surely Republicans must do the same.
Except we don't.
    Douglas Heye
    In late 2015, columnist Greg Sargent contacted me on a piece he was writing for the New Republic on where the Republican Congress intended to go on climate change (I had served as deputy chief of staff for then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor from 2012-2014).
    If Greg was shocked when I told him not only were there no plans or discussions to move climate change legislation, he was positively apoplectic when I told him the issue itself had never come up in leadership meetings, House Republican Conference meetings or in any context that I could remember.
    "I don't recall any conversations about it one way or the other," he quoted me as saying.
    That was true, and during a back and forth with an incredulous Greg, I relayed exactly why. Republicans have grown tired with what they feel is a constant lecturing on the environment, be it from liberal elite editorial pages, the media at large or figures such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye. They can't even check into a hotel room without being told that fresh towels might not be delivered every day because of the environment.
    It's a tyranny, they feel, from a scientific community that vacillates between whether coffee and salt is healthy or unhealthy. They feel that they've suffered through decades of over-the-top Malthusian doomsday predictions from Paul Ehrlich, Rachel Carson and even Ted Danson, about dying oceans, global starvation and the like. And the solution is always the same -- restrictions on businesses and energy production, even though they feel Soylent Green is not a prophetic story of the American people and Planet of the Apes is not the future of Planet Earth.
    If a Republican member of Congress does speak to a colleague or a staffer on climate change, it is significantly more likely to be in the context of climate change (or, as Republican members prefer to call it, global warming) protests in Washington being canceled because of snow -- which may not disprove climate change, but certainly makes Republicans laugh. Or, it's in regards to climate change's opponents, including their favorite target, Al Gore, failing to practice what they preach by flying private planes and other less-than-environment-friendly activities. Indeed, these only calcify Republican beliefs that climate change shouldn't be a key concern.
    So when administration officials say they've not had conversations with the President on his personal beliefs on climate change, I believe them. I'll leave it to others as to whether that is a wise policy, but I have no doubt it's the truth.
    The reaction we've seen from both the media and Democrats this past week has been so over the top that it won't change GOP minds and hearts either. They feel constantly insulted and talked down to by coastal elites, many of whom call them "deniers," in a manner usually reserved for those who deny the Holocaust.
    They think they are being treated as if they are stupid for not sharing the same beliefs. It's a reason that sounds awfully like why Trump voters supported him in the first place.
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    There is one way to have Republican members of Congress and President Trump talk about their personal beliefs on climate -- and that's for the voters to demand to hear them. And yet poll after poll shows that while voters say they want to protect the environment and favor the Democrats to do that, it simply is not a high-ranking concern. A 2016 Pew Research Center survey showed the environment ranked only 12th out of 14 issues as "very important."
    As long as that remains the case, the politics on the issue are settled. And in the meantime, staffers and officials who say they have not talked to their bosses about their personal feelings on climate change are probably telling the truth.