Why we endorsed Senator John McCain

By JIM DIPESO, REP’s vice president for policy

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: This was the lead article in The Green Elephant in fall 2007.


The political wise guys say that John McCain has little chance of securing the Republican nomination for president. Too old, too little money, too much yesterday’s man, etc., etc.

So, why did REP endorse McCain for president?

Why not Rudy Giuliani, who’s ahead in the polls and promises no-nonsense leadership?

What about Mitt Romney, whose business success, chiseled visage, and family pedigree are the stuff of Republican dreams?

Or Fred Thompson, who has a baritone voice and… and… a baritone voice.

The simple truth, as we see it, is that no other Republican candidate understands as well as McCain that energy is a convergence of security, economic, and climate risks requiring action today. No other GOP candidate has given the interrelated web of energy and climate issues the kind of thoughtful consideration or offered the legislative solutions that he has.

McCain championed greenhouse gas emissions reductions before it was cool, before it was popular.



Let’s focus on climate for a minute. Today, climate change is the topic of the hour. Republicans are climbing aboard the bandwagon. Even Fred Thompson, who last April ridiculed the issue with allusions to global warming on Pluto, is now saying that climate change is real.

Just last week, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Virginia’s John Warner (a GOP stalwart) and Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman (kinda, sorta Democrat), introduced a cap-and-trade bill to cut greenhouse gas emissions nearly two-thirds by 2050.

One of the co-sponsors is Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), not the first name that the green set would list as a congressional environmental champion.

The same day that Warner and Lieberman dropped their bill, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) put out a press release calling for a sector-by-sector approach, rather than an economy-wide cap.

That’s a good sign. Congress is debating how, not whether. Let the reactionary bloggers, radio gasbags, and self-important TV pundits blather on that climate change is a leftwing plot to bring down capitalism. Business leaders, states, cities, conservationists, academics, and ordinary citizens have accepted the science, moved on, and are ready to discuss practical solutions.

But it wasn’t so long ago that McCain’s was a lonely voice in the GOP, calling on his colleagues to take climate change seriously.



McCain’s evolution as a climate change leader dates to the 2000 presidential campaign. In February of that year, a couple of weeks after REP endorsed McCain, a few of our leaders met with him at the Phoenix airport. He had just won the New Hampshire primary and was heading home for a few days. As McCain and his entourage entered the room, the first words out of his mouth were: “What do I tell them about global warming? Everywhere I go, people are asking me about global warming. I need a good Republican answer! Can you help me?”

The REP leaders looked at each other, gulped, and said: “Senator, we’ll write you a policy paper on the topic.” And so we did.

Shortly thereafter, the McCain campaign ended in the bottomlands of South Carolina.

Now, we can’t take all the credit for what happened after McCain returned to the Senate, but we like to think that we helped plant an idea in his head. Beginning in 2001, he started looking into the climate issue. He held hearings, questioned scientists, and turned the topic over in his mind.

He led expeditions to the ends of the earth—Alaska, Antarctica, and Greenland—to educate his congressional colleagues. He and Lieberman sponsored legislation, the 2003 Climate Stewardship Act, similar to the bill introduced last week.

And, most importantly for Republicans, he has framed the issue in conservative terms. In an energy policy speech last April, he dismissed critics who say the effects of climate change are too uncertain or too distant in time to warrant action.

“I’m a proud conservative, and I reject that kind of live-for-today, ‘me-generation’ attitude,” he said. “It is unworthy of us and incompatible with our reputation as visionaries and problem-solvers. Americans have never feared change. We make change work for us.”

Nearly a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt said: “Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of ensuring the safety and continuance of the nation.”

TR’s insight about stewardship is as timely today as it was then. REP is convinced that John McCain gets that, and that’s why we endorsed him for president.