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Did energy extremism bring down Democrats?

President Obama has been pushing a climate agenda since taking office.

President Obama has been pushing a climate agenda since taking office.

The Democratic Party’s energy policy for the 2016 election campaign took a hard line, including a refusal to acknowledge natural gas “has been the primary (and most cost-effective) driver in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.,” according to the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The policy further called for a flat “phase down” on fossil-fuel extraction from public lands, which ALEC described as “a pretty significant leftward shift in just four years’ time and may represent a signal to Democratic lawmakers that any support for fossil fuels generally is verboten.”

And that, one analyst has concluded, cost the Democrats dearly during the presidential race.

“Let me offer a piece of unsolicited advice, one that Democratic strategists have discussed privately but are reticent to promote publicly for fear of alienating green activists,” wrote National Journal Politics Editor Josh Kraushaar this week.

“Taking a more moderate stand on energy policy – whether it’s supporting the Keystone XL pipeline, championing the fracking boom that’s transforming regional economies, or simply sounding a more skeptical note on the Obama administration’s litany of environmental regulations – would do wonders for the Democratic Party’s ability to compete for the working-class voters who have drifted away from the party.”

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He pointed out that Democrats, after Hillary Clinton’s loss in the presidential race against President-elect Donald Trump, have been blaming their defeat on lackluster communications, an organizational deficit and even the campaign’s ground game.

“But the most glaring problem for the Democratic Party is an unwillingness to even entertain the possibility that its policy agenda had anything to do with its stunning defeat. Even Republicans, thanks to their national committee’s ‘autopsy report’ in the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s loss, concluded the party had to take a more moderate stance on immigration to win future elections. Democrats have done no similar soul-searching.”

He noted the GOP advanced throughout the Midwest in the 2016 election, and it wasn’t the first time that had happened.

“In 2010, they (Democrats) lost a whopping 63 seats in the House in part because of failed cap-and-trade legislation; over one-third of the seats they lost were in the Midwest. Republicans amped up their attacks on Obama’s environmental policies during the 2014 midterms – airing over 26,000 spots citing the EPA – and swept nearly every competitive Senate race on their way to the majority,” Kraushaar wrote.

He noted that polls showed a plurality of Democrats support the Keystone XL, even though the party’s president and top leaders opposed it.

“Among working-class Democrats (those who made less than $50,000 a year), support for the Keystone project outdistanced opposition by a whopping 22 points (54 to 32). When your party’s own voters are at odds with its elite, it’s a recipe for disaster,” he wrote.

And it gets worse going forward into the 2018 races, he said.

“There are seven Democratic senators up for reelection in the Rust Belt, with an eighth (Heidi Heitkamp) representing an energy-rich Plains state. Trump carried seven of the eight states, and came within one point of winning deep-blue Minnesota. If Democrats continue to raise holy hell on climate change but sound uninterested in promoting energy jobs, President-elect Trump will have a ready-made issue to exploit over the next two years,” he said.

ALEC pointed out that Democrat goals included getting half the nation’s electricity from clean energy sources within a decade, installing half a billion solar panels in four years and removing tax breaks for fossil fuel companies.

The organization said “more moderate-minded Democratic lawmakers in energy producing states” would have to account for the extreme positions.

The contrast between the two parties’ energy statements this year could hardly have been greater.

The Democrats were “committed to defending, implementing, and extending smart pollution and efficiency standards, including the Clean Power Plan,” while Republicans pointed out that plan had been stayed by the Supreme Court and they would “do away with it altogether.”

On Keystone, the Democrats said they “support President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline,” while Republicans said they “intend to finish that pipeline and others.”

The Democrats expressed support for Obama’s promises in the Paris climate-change agreement, while Republicans said they “reject the agendas of both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, which represent only the personal commitments of their signatories.”

And while the Democrats said the “best science tells us that without ambitious, immediate action across our economy … (climate) impacts will be far worse in the future,” the Republicans said climate change “is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue.”

“This is the triumph of extremism over common sense, and Congress must stop it,” the Republicans said.

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