05/27/2011 09:08 pm ET | Updated Jul 27, 2011

The Incredible Shrinking GOP Field

Yesterday, in a major move toward strengthening the forces working to restore American economic competitiveness through clean energy, the Blue-Green Alliance and the Apollo Alliance merged.  The Blue-Green Alliance had emerged as a powerhouse, combining 12 unions and four environmental groups with twelve million members. Apollo had focused itself on developing the policy initiatives for a clean-energy economy, and the merger simply combined these two capacities. (Full disclosure: I serve on the boards of both, and the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers were co-founders of both.)

During the press conference that followed, most of the media were curious about how even a combined Blue-Green/Apollo effort could overcome the incredible Republican hostility in Washington toward anything that smacks of clean energy. It's a good question, but one that highlights a powerful irony.

As potential candidates ranging from the thoughtful (Mitch Daniels) to the risible (Donald Trump) take themselves out of the Republican presidential field, most of the remaining serious candidates have something very powerful and unnoted in common. As late as 2006, when the Blue-Green Alliance was fully launched, the Republican Party had a very strong set of clean energy advocates in very high places. There was an eastern governor who was putting his state into the nation's first cap-and-trade system and had promised he would oppose coal-fired power plants that "killed people." There was a mountain state governor who eloquently called on the nation to undo "Churchill's blunder" of allowing the West to become dependent on Middle Eastern oil, joined Arnold Schwarzenegger's Western Climate Initiative, and helped his state make a sharp U-turn from freeway central to one of the nation's most enlightened transit advocates. In the Midwest another prominent mainstream Republican governor was leading his state to enact the most ambitious renewable portfolio standard in the country, joined with Arizona's Democratic governor Napolitano to advocate cap and trade, and partnered with famed Arctic explorer Will Steger to educate the public on global warming. And the Party's most visible former House Speaker was openly apologizing for the Bush administration's climate inaction.

Those leaders are all still powerfully placed within the GOP. Indeed, for all practical purposes they constitute the present GOP presidential candidate field -- because I'm referring to Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich. All four, of course, have recanted their earlier views, to greater or lesser degree. All seem to be mindful of the remarkable know-nothing standard  set for GOP candidates by Marc Morano, the head of the new right-wing, climate-cynic website Climate Depot.  Morano, who used to work for Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, proclaims, "Republican presidential hopefuls can believe in man-made global warming as long as they never talk about it, and oppose all the so-called solutions."

We can be certain that if Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin does decide to grace the Republican field, they will go after their opponents with this recycled question from the McCarthy era: "Do you now, or have you ever, believed in man-made climate change? Do you now, or have you ever, supported cap and trade?"

So science, for the Republicans, has become the new Communist conspiracy.

How sad.