Last Thursday, Republican James Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, held a snowball on the Senate floor to prove that it is cold outside in Washington, D.C. Inhofe took that to mean climate change science is "hysteria," because global warming can't be real. "We hear the perpetual headline that 2014 has been the warmest year on record, but now the script has flipped," he said. The stunt itself lasted under 15 seconds, but was covered by the media for days. It even inspired a parody Twitter account, @InhofesSnowBall.
Inhofe’s antics are a gift to the left. His beliefs about global warming are utterly detached from scientific reality, and yet Inhofe, who wrote a whole book calling climate change "the greatest hoax," is the face of Republicans’ environmental leadership. So every time the environmental chairman stands on the Senate floor, armed with props and delivering wacky speeches, he damages the GOP's reputation as a whole. Not that he's alone in his denialism: More than 56 percent of congressional Republicans deny or question climate science. Inhofe is just another reminder to voters—86 percent of whom say global warming will be a "very or somewhat serious problem" if we don't reduce emmissions—that the GOP values big business and small government above our planet's viability.
“The Republican Party should be mortified by the face of their environmental leadership,” the Washington Post wrote in a weekend editorial. "The View" co-host Nicolle Wallace, a former GOP consultant to John McCain, agreed. “It’s terrible for the Republican Party to look like we can’t acknowledge reality.… [I]t is moronic to throw snow in the Capitol and say, I don’t know, I don’t think anything is changing."
Hill Democrats have tried to expose Inhofe's ignorance, to little avail. In January, they sponsored Keystone XL amendments confirming the scientific consensus that the planet is warming. The plan was to put GOP senators on the spot about climate change, but it backfired. Before the vote, Inhofe came out in favor of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s pro-climate amendment because it only said climate change is real, without identifying the (human) cause. The Whitehouse resolution passed both the House and Senate easily.
But as Democrats are discovering, there's no need to set a trap for Republicans. They merely need to let Inhofe speak on the Senate floor. And while it's an amusing media sideshow right now, it has the potential to hurt the GOP in 2016 because his views aren’t so different from the rest of his party. Possible presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio might not bring snowballs to the Senate floor to argue their points, but they are climate change deniers, too. If Inhofe keeps this act up, his colleagues with designs on the White House will have to decide whether to embrace or renounce him.