Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington has dropped out of the Democrat presidential primary race after making climate change the central issue of his campaign.
“Climate change is not a singular issue; it is all the issues that we Democrats care about,” Inslee said during the second Democrat debate. “It is health. It is national security. It is our economy.”
“It’s become clear I’m not going to be carrying the ball,” Inslee told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow when he announced his withdrawal from the race during a segment on her show. “I’m not going to be president, so I’m withdrawing tonight from the race.”
Inslee, who suspended his campaign on August 21, was the third Democrat to end his presidential campaign this year, after former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA).
Failures at Home
As governor of Washington, Inslee has repeatedly failed in his attempts to enact strict policies and laws limiting greenhouse gas emissions in the state. Voters twice rejected referendums Inslee endorsed to tax carbon-dioxide emissions; his efforts to cajole his fellow Democrats, who control Washington’s legislature, to enact laws limiting carbon-dioxide emissions have failed; and in a case currently on appeal before the state’s Supreme Court, regulations his administration enacted to restrict greenhouse gas emissions were struck down by a county superior court as being beyond the governor’s power.
Despite these setbacks in his home state, Inslee presented himself as a single-issue presidential candidate staking everything on fighting climate change.
“We started [out] saying that climate change had to be the number one job of the United States,” Inslee said on MSNBC.
Undistinguished Climate Campaign
Climate was already on Democrat voters’ minds before Inslee joined the race. An April 2019 CNN poll indicated 96 percent of Democrat voters considered it at least “very important” a presidential candidate support “taking aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change.”
With every candidate for the Democrat presidential nomination having outlined his or her own climate change plan, Inslee failed to set himself apart from the large primary field, says Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment at the Washington Policy Center.
“He ended up with 0.0 percent in the national poll,” Myers said. “I think that gives you a sense of how influential he was in the discussion.
“Climate change is probably one of the top issues among Democrat voters, and Jay Inslee still had 0.0 percent,” Myers said.
Having withdrawn from the presidential nomination battle, Inslee says he will now focus his efforts on winning a third term as governor.
‘Symbolic’ Climate Battle
Inslee’s suspension announcement came just days after his campaign released the fifth part of its comprehensive climate policy agenda, titled “Community Climate Justice,” outlining a plan for what Inslee called “environmental and economic justice in an inclusive clean energy economy.”
Inslee’s plan included a $3 trillion federal spending package and the promise to create eight million green energy jobs. Inslee also proposed reshaping U.S. foreign policy around climate change, mandating 100 percent clean energy production in the United States, banning sales of new cars not powered by electricity, and eliminating fossil fuel production in the United States.
Democrats have taken up climate change as a major campaign issue more for reasons of virtue-signaling than seriousness about enacting realistic energy policies, says Myers.
“I think climate change is a symbol for Democrats, more than a policy,” Myers said. “The policies that have been proposed on climate change are totally destructive and unworkable, but that doesn’t appear to be a barrier for the Democrats—effective and workable policies are not a prerequisite.”
Symbols Over Substance
The remaining candidates should take heed of Inslee’s inability to gain traction among Democrat voters based on his single-minded focus on climate, says Myers.
“I think Inslee should be rather a lesson to Democrats, a warning to serious people about how climate change as a symbol has overtaken climate change as a rational policy,” Myers said. “I don’t think anyone ever actually looked at Inslee’s record in Washington State, which was miserable.
“Virtually none of his climate policies were ever adopted, and they were rejected by Democrats,” Myers said. “I don’t think he was ever taken seriously enough that people actually scrutinized his record.”
Vivian E. Jones ([email protected]) writes from Murfreesboro, Tennessee.