Donald Trump is waging a war on science. After facing universal condemnation by the scientifically literate for linking childhood vaccinations to the onset of autism at a recent gathering of GOP candidates at the Ronald Reagan Library (I have refused to call these events "debates"), Trump appeared on conservative Hugh Hewitt's radio show to discuss environmental policy.
When Hewitt asked Trump about climate change, the GOP frontrunner responded that he "did not believe in global warming," and qualified his opinion with pseudo-science on climate fluctuations dating back to the 1920s.
He eventually found a way to pivot to his typical nativist rhetoric from the campaign trail, sharing that, instead of global warming, he was much more concerned about the "nuclear warming" of rogue states and Putin's Russia. What exactly Trump was referencing, I am not sure.
What I am sure of, however, is that Trump's war against science is not one that he is fighting alone. On the same stage as Trump, two distinguished physicians -- Rand Paul (an ophthalmologist) and Ben Carson (a pediatric neurosurgeon) -- seemed to reach a brief moment of consensus with the real estate mogul that vaccinations ought to be spread out and taken in lower doses, even though scientists suggest that this protocol could lead to great health risks for the children receiving them.
Earlier in CNN's marathon coverage, presidential hopeful Marco Rubio denounced any government action against climate change, explaining that middle-class Americans couldn't afford an increase in energy prices and that "America is not a planet." Chris Christie, when prompted to comment, agreed with Rubio's unwillingness to risk economic growth for "chasing a left-wing idea."
Ironically, these responses were given in front of the retired Air Force One of a president who dealt with the scientific findings of his time through pragmatism, rather than ignorance. When warned by scientists that the Earth's ozone layer was thinning, Ronald Reagan and his administration galvanized the private sector to find replacements for substances responsible for ozone depletion.
In 1987, the United Nations unanimously ratified the Montreal Protocol -- setting conditions to phase out the use of these same substances. Even if the scientists were wrong, Reagan's approach involved constructing an insurance policy for the public, that utilized conservative principles to address an important social issue.
Why can't the modern GOP follow the path of Reagan, and take out an insurance policy against the warming of our planet, and the health of our citizens? Instead of allowing liberal policies to dictate the terms of how we create social responses to issues such as climate change and vaccination rates, Republicans ought to advocate for the conservative approaches that surely exist to address these same issues.
To combat climate change, the GOP could work to remove regulatory barriers on innovating alternative energies, or create a carbon tax that genuinely reflects the negative externalities of heavy carbon emissions into the environment by large corporations. For vaccines, they could similarly explore imposing a "vaccine tax" onto the parents refusing them for their children, to reflect the cost of potentially losing herd immunity within a daycare or classroom, while staying out of the business of discussing an individual's religious beliefs or philosophical inclinations.
All of these solutions, embedded with free-market principles, have been proposed in the past. Simply ignoring these social problems rooted in science is not a conservative stance, but rather a bigoted one. And even though the campaign trail will continue to feature moments where conservative candidates claim to lead "the Reagan way," the current GOP is clearly out of touch with Reagan, and out of touch with reality.