Careful stewardship of the environment has long been a central tenet of California conservatism.
Beginning with the sweeping protections afforded Yosemite with the establishment of the National Park System under President Teddy Roosevelt, continuing to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Richard Nixon and including the most recent aggressive carbon emission reductions in the world started under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, California has always been viewed as a special environment to protect, but also a place where ideas to do so are catalyzed.
Republican leaders, often inspired by California and its own brand of conservatism, have championed historic efforts to protect our environment.
President Donald Trump is pushing to expand oil and gas drilling off the California coast. According to a Public Policy Institute of California poll, two in three Californians oppose offshore drilling. Yet seven areas offered by the Trump administration for new drilling would be in Pacific waters off California’s coast.
Drilling off the California coast has been off limits since an historic oil spill near Santa Barbara in 1969 helped launch the modern environmental movement.
Since then, California Republicans have had a history of being environmentally sound while still holding our core values intact. Market-based solutions became the mantra of consecutive think tanks and policymakers. The current cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gases was designed and recognized in California by industry.
Understanding that we can and must be environmentally sensitive but respectful of the power of market forces, Presidents Reagan and Richard Nixon made valiant efforts to help the environment while growing the economy. Schwarzenegger established a framework for both unprecedented economic growth and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
This latest salvo by Trump has again separated him from the broader conservative movement. On various issues, Trump has undermined traditional Republican conservative governance. Instead of a core conservative principle such as free trade, he is undoing trade agreements and imposing tariffs.
Withdrawing from the international community, Trump’s populist nationalism seeks to destroy the concept of conservative governance and to upend the role Republicans can play in policymaking.
Beyond surrendering the policy debate on ideas, Trumpism chooses to lose on the battleground of politics. The Public Policy Institute of California released a poll this month showing that California Republicans are split on the question of offshore drilling. With only 54 percent in favor, Trump’s own base isn’t on board with his decision, making this not only bad policy, but bad politics.
The time has come for Republicans to reclaim the mantel of conservatism from the current nationalist movement as a matter of good public policy and good politics. We can and should be at the forefront of the conservative movement, but first we must refuse to accept the surrendering of our own ideas to a cult of personality-driven populism.
We can start by protecting our coast – a platform where the vast majority of Californians agree.
Mike Madrid is principal of GrassrootsLab, a California political consulting firm, and a participant in The Sacramento Bee/McClatchy Influencers series. He can be contacted at email@example.com. Find the series (with more on offshore oil drilling on Monday) at sacbee.com/influencers.