Is the GOP’s climate litmus test weakening?

If you were anywhere near the Twitterbox yesterday, you probably saw this bold announcement from Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman:

The tweet was bouncing around the web around the same time as a video of Texas Gov. Rick Perry explaining to a kid that he’s “not sure anybody actually knows completely and absolutely how old the earth is.”

But Perry doesn’t just question evolution and geology, he’s got issues with climate science as well. The candidate recently claimed that “there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” This statement and others earned Perry a whopping four out of four Pinocchios from the Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog.

While Perry is hardly alone in his rejection of climate science, Huntsman — who is anything but liberal — is deliberately distancing himself from the party’s anti-science wing. Huntsman’s chief strategist, John Weaver, recently told the Post that “We’re not going to win a national election if we become the anti-science party … the American people are looking for someone who lives in reality.”

Are they really? Consider this quote from a Perry supporter in Iowa:

“I’m looking for who’s the toughest and who stands with his values,” said Kyle Moeller, a 21-year-old college student who met Perry at the Walcott compound that bills itself as the world’s largest truck stop. “Right now, that looks like Rick Perry.”

“Living in reality” appears to be optional, at least in this case.

While a candidate’s views on science are certain to have a major impact on energy and climate policy, will it matter in the election? A recent article in Politico suggests not:

Republican campaign veterans shrug off the distinction on climate science as a third-tier issue that will be quickly overshadowed as the candidates engage on topics like the economy and how to balance spending cuts and entitlement programs.

“People will tell you it matters,” said Doug Holtz-Eakin, a former top economic adviser during John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid. “It doesn’t.”

So positions on science may not matter, but equivocating on those positions, as former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty did, just might. In a piece published today, former Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorial writer Jim Lenfestey says Pawlenty “embarrassed himself before the entire nation by turning his back on one of his most significant accomplishments.”

As governor, he saw the ominous clouds of climate change as the economic opportunity they represent, and was a strong supporter of renewable-energy standards that helped make Minnesota a leader in using our abundant nonpolluting energy resources.

But as candidate for the Republican nomination for president, he shamefully recanted that position to fit right-wing talking points that the science is uncertain, while he knows the opposite is true — the science has only grown more certain since he first became governor.

So will science win the day? Or conviction about science, right or wrong? Watching Huntsman’s poll numbers in the coming months will give us a clue.

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