Watch Republican Presidential Candidates Try to Talk Sense to Their Party About Climate Change

You tried.  

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

During the Republican undercard debate Wednesday night, the moderators decided to pin down Sen. Lindsey Graham by pointing out that, unlike many in his party, he is wiling to accept mainstream climate science (and willing to accept tax increases as part of a budget deal with Democrats, and offer undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship).

Graham, who had spent most of the economics-focused debate trying to change the subject to national security—at one point literally shaking his fist at China—decided to take the question head on. The result: he somewhat unusual scene of a Republican presidential candidate trying to deliver some real talk to his party.

I think I’m trying to solve problems that somebody better solve. Now, you don’t have to believe that climate change is real. I have been to the Antarctic, I’ve been to Alaska. I’m not a scientist, and I’ve got the grades to prove it. But I’ve talked to the climatologists and they tell me that greenhouse gas effect is real, that we’re heating up the planet. I just want a solution that would be good for the economy that doesn’t destroy it.  

Later in the night, former New York Gov. George Pataki was also questioned about the fact that he appears to believe scientists when they tell us the planet is warming. He too made a somewhat valiant effort to talk sense to his party, albeit while also suggesting that Democratic policies to address global warming would be economically ruinous.

One of the things that troubles me about the Republican Party is too often we question science that everyone accepts. I mean, it’s ridiculous that in the 21st century we’re questioning whether or not vaccines are the appropriate way to go. Of course they are. And it’s also not appropriate to think that human activity, putting CO2 into the atmosphere doesn’t make the Earth warmer all things being equal. It does. It’s uncontravertible. 

I think part of the problem is Republicans think about climate change and say, oh, my God, we’ll have higher taxes, more Obama, more big government, the EPA shutting down factories. That’s not the collusion that I see. I want Republicans to embrace innovation and technology. You know, there’s one country in the world that has fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the rest of the world. You know what that is? The United States. Our emissions are lower than they were 1995. Not because of a government program but because of fracking, private sector creation.

The idea that we can actually combat climate change without concerted government action might be a bit flimsy. But by GOP standards, this was all fairly progressive. Which is of course why these two weren’t invited to the main debate.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the GOP primary.