Rubio’s Rising Tea Party Tide

Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, following a discussion at the Uber Technologies Inc. office in Washington, D.C., on March 24, 2014.

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, following a discussion at the Uber Technologies Inc. office in Washington, D.C., on March 24, 2014.

Written with Jonathan Salant — updated at 2 pm, May 13

A political career is all about choices.

With the stances one takes, the votes one casts, the more that accrues in the public record, the less any political player is able to distance himself or herself from himself or herself. For as much faith as one presidential campaign operative placed in the powers of the Etch A Sketch, course corrections can prove even more costly than bad courses.

Marco Rubio has made one of those choices.

“Our climate is always changing,” the junior senator from Florida, a Republican considering a presidential campaign, said in an interview aired on ABC News’s “This Week” over the weekend, reaffirming his earlier stated views on this front. “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.”

The senator’s secondary statement — that “I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy” — is open to more debate than his denial of the human role in climate change. For all the greenhouse gases that emerging industrial powers such as China are generating, the effectiveness of any controls within the U.S. confronts the reality that we’re all in this together.

“The United States is a country. It is not a planet,” Rubio said today at a National Press Club luncheon, where he was not walking back any comments about the role of human activity in climate change — a view placing him  at odds with the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community.

“Natural catastrophes have always existed,” he said.

Even so, Rubio said, he does not oppose actions to mitigate the impacts of rising oceans and does not oppose the use of new technologies. But, he said, such actions will not have “any measurable impact on our weather.”

Yet, in essentially declaring that the rising tides have always been thus, Rubio has staked a potentially costly position for any national campaign.

While the American public doesn’t place climate change at the top of its priorities in polling asking about the most pressing problems, the public has largely made up its mind about global warming.

Is there solid evidence that the Earth is warming?

Yes, say 67 percent of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center.

Yet like so much in modern politics, the partisan divide as even more dramatic: 84 percent of Democrats surveyed say the evidence on climate change is in, while only 25 percent of those Republicans aligned with the Tea Party say so. (Among non-Tea Party Republicans, 61 percent say they’re sold.) And on the question of global warming as a result of human activity, 64 percent of Democrats surveyed concur that it is, while just 9 percent of the Tea Party does.

Seventy percent of Tea Partiers say there is no solid evidence of climate change — which means they, like Rubio, probably haven’t taken a close look at the latest reports:

Such as the National Climate Assessment, the third in a series released last week.

It reads: “Climate change is happening now. The U.S. and the world are warming, global sea level is rising, and some types of extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and more severe. These changes have already resulted in a wide range of impacts across every region of the Nation and many sectors of the economy.”

Or the latest dispatch from Antarctica:

“A large section of the mighty West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable, two groups of scientists reported on Monday — ” per the New York Times report on it today. “If the findings hold up, they suggest hat the melting could destabilize neighboring parts of the ice sheet and a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more may be unavoidable in coming centuries.”

All of which raises the question of how a Republican relatively new on the national scene, one who arrived here with the help of the Tea Party and has now taken a stance on climate in advance of a possible 2016 bid for the White House that puts him squarely in the Tea Party’s camp, can communicate with that broader spectrum of the electorate who agrees with the notion that, “Something’s happening here.” The metaphor doesn’t fit with the rest of the lyrics: “What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

The Sierra Club has been particularly unforgiving of the senator’s stated stance on climate change.

They’ve also compiled “the 20 best tweets,” including one that evokes the image of sea-water spilling from the storm sewers on South Beach lately.

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