CNN senior political analyst (and U.S. News & World Report editor-at-large) David Gergen scolded GOP candidate Mitt Romney on Monday’s Anderson Cooper 360 for daring to suggest that the health of the American economy is as important as fighting climate change. Gergen likened that to the "divisive" debate on race among Democratic candidates and called it a “very dangerous” argument for Republicans to make: “If Romney wins, and that becomes the message of the Republican Party, we are going to have two huge clashes in this country between needs on the economy vs. needs to deal with climate change. And it’s a very dangerous place for the Republican Party to go.”
Romney’s chief rival in today’s Michigan primary, Arizona Senator John McCain, has consistently pushed the liberal side of the climate change debate. In a speech in Kalamazoo yesterday, McCain sounded a lot like Al Gore: “I believe there's scientific evidence that drastic things are happening to our planet. If I'm wrong and we move ahead with green technology, the only downside is leaving a cleaner world for our children.”
Instead of scolding McCain for embracing a liberal position in a Republican primary, Gergen faulted Romney for not following suit. Because of his past service in the Reagan and Ford administrations, Gergen is often cast as the conservative counter-balance in roundtables; last night, for example, he appeared with reporter Candy Crowley and liberal CNN contributor Roland Martin. But with Gergen (who also worked for Bill Clinton) making liberal points, too, there’s no conservative to offer an alternative opinion.
Here’s the full exchange as it took place at about 10:18pm EST on CNN, beginning with Cooper’s question about what was likely to happen in today’s primary:
ANDERSON COOPER: David, John McCain won the Michigan primary back in 2000, largely by drawing the support from Democrats and independents. Does he have that same level of support this time?
DAVID GERGEN: He has a high level of support. He's very competitive. This is a primary that ought to favor Mitt Romney. You know, the rising concern about the economy is an issue that plays directly to Romney's major strength. And that is, he was-
COOPER: It's close in the polls, though, right now.
GERGEN: It's close in the polls, but Romney has got a -- if you look at all the polls, Romney has got a modest lead. And, by the way, Huckabee is a close third, too. So, it's bunched, but Romney slightly ahead.
But I have to tell you, here's one of the issues, a problem. Just as race is being very divisive on the Democratic side, Romney is going after McCain for putting higher CAFE standards, higher standards for gasoline usage on automobile companies and for going after climate change.
If Romney wins, and that becomes the message of the Republican Party, we are going to have two huge clashes in this country between needs on the economy vs. needs to deal with climate change. And it's a very dangerous place for the Republican Party to go.