In March 2010, the New York Times reported that President Obama “dropped all mention of cap and trade from his budget.” That summer, after a cap-and-trade bill died in the Senate, several sources in the Senate and in the environmental community privately complained to ClimateWire’s Evan Lehman that the Obama administration “failed to take a leadership role.” During his 2012 re-election campaign, President Obama ran to the right of Mitt Romney on energy policy, and he studiously avoided talk of climate change on the campaign trail.
The message was loud and clear: climate change is loser electoral politics.
After gaining re-election, upon which he no longer faced electoral accountability, President Obama pivoted hard to climate change. It became his legacy issue. In July of 2013, Obama announced his “Climate Action Plan.” In the speech, the president struck a far different tone than he did during the re-election campaign. When he was trying to win a popular vote, the President wouldn’t touch climate change policy with a ten foot pole. However, at the announcement of his signature climate plan, Obama presented global warming as an existential threat to our children. At one point, he asked whether “we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.” In August 2015, President Obama unveiled his marquee climate policy. It’s called the Clean Power Plan, and it is a cap-and-trade program. That is, it’s the very policy that died in the Senate in 2010, reportedly due Obama’s reluctance to lead.
The upshot of all of this is that I strongly doubt that President Obama would win a third term, as he claimed yesterday. This is in no way an endorsement of Donald Trump. It is, rather, a statement of my belief that Obama took electoral poison when he made climate change his big legacy issue.