Paris Exit Enjoys Electoral Legitimacy Agreement Itself Lacked

I’ve seen reports that Trump’s exit from the Paris climate agreement is contrary to the will of American voters. This allegation gets it exactly backwards. In fact, the agreement lacked electoral legitimacy because Obama ducked global warming during his 2012 reelection campaign, whereas Trump’s Paris exit fulfills a 2016 campaign pledge.

As I’ve explained many times before, Obama avoided climate policy like the plague in 2012. During the debates, for example, Obama’s only mention of energy/environment policy was to self-praise his support of fossil fuels. It was only after he gained a second term that Obama pivoted to climate as a legacy issue. During his second term, Obama would say that climate change is a threat greater than terrorism; during his 2012 debates, Obama would never have said such a thing, because he was trying to get elected, and owning climate policy is political poison. The point is that the Paris agreement, which was a significant component of Obama’s second-term focus on climate change, was not vetted by the voters in 2012. Voters had no chance to vet the policy because Obama either: 1) hid his intent to make climate policy a big priority at the outset of his second term; or 2) only decided in January 2013 to make climate policy a big priority.

Trump, by contrast, campaigned on exiting Paris. In the course of that campaign, he consistently denigrated Obama’s energy/environmental policies. He even called climate change a hoax. There was no doubt in any voter’s mind where he stands on these issues. And he was elected. His action yesterday thus enjoys the very electoral legitimacy that the agreement itself lacked. He fulfilled a campaign promise. The system worked. Hooray.

As I understand it, the exit process takes four years. This timeline suggests that the Paris agreement could become an issue in the 2020 election. I’ve got my fingers crossed.