The heavy flooding that’s overwhelmed Texas and killed more than 30 people has put Sen. Ted Cruz in a bind on climate change.
The Republican presidential contender has held two press conferences over the past two days to address the flooding and the government’s response. At each one, he was asked about the impact of climate change on natural disasters like the Texas flooding, and at each one, he dodged the question.
“In a time of tragedy, I think it’s wrong to try to politicize a natural disaster – and so there’s plenty of time to talk about other issues,” he said in response to a question on his views on climate change during a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.
“I think the focus now is on caring for those who have lost their lives and lost their homes,” he said.
At least 31 people have died in Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma from the storm since this weekend, while another 11 remain missing in Texas. Cruz promised to do all he could to ensure that Texans get access to the resources they need during the recovery.
But his reluctance to answer questions on climate change mark a much more cautious approach to the question than his comparison in March of “global warming alarmists” to “flat-Earthers.”
“It used to be [that] it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier,” he said in an interview with the Texas Tribune.
Cruz also argued that “global warming alarmists” aren’t basing their arguments on facts, because “the satellite data demonstrate that there has been no significant warming whatsoever for 17 years.”
His cautious answers highlight the growing divide within the GOP on climate change. Some within the party have shown an openness to acknowledging and offering proposals to combat climate change, while others continue to question the scientific consensus that humans are contributing to it.
A handful of other Republican presidential contenders have inched towards a more moderate stance in recent months. Sen. Rand Paul has said he’s “not against all [environmental] regulation” to combat climate change, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has said he believes climate change is real and the government should address it.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who just three years ago had to confront the damage done to his state by a severe hurricane, also said earlier this month in New Hampshire that “global warming is real.”
“I don’t think that’s deniable. And I do think human activity contributes to it,” he said.
Meanwhile, others say the verdict’s still out on climate change. That was Jeb Bush’s message in New Hampshire last week, where he said it was “intellectual arrogance” to assert that the science is clear on what’s causing climate change.
But most in the Republican Party has in recent history virulently opposed government regulations meant to tackle climate change. GOP lawmakers have worked hard to roll back many of the EPA’s regulations on carbon emissions, citing concerns they could impact coal and factory jobs and targeting them as an example of government overreach.
Republicans could find themselves in a bind on climate change this cycle, caught between coal-country voters and energy industry players, typically some of the GOP’s biggest supporters, and a building national and scientific consensus that climate change is real and the government needs to do something about it.
A New York Times/Stanford University poll in January found that an overwhelming majority of Americans, and fully 48% of Republicans, said they were more likely to back a candidate that supports fighting climate change.
That bind will only become tougher to navigate if natural disasters, like the flooding in Texas, continue to put the issue in the spotlight.
And President Barack Obama has indicated he’ll do all he can to keep the focus on the climate change issue heading into 2016. He warned during a commencement speech last Wednesday that climate change is a national security threat, and on Thursday he’s expected to hit on the topic again during a briefing at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.