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Republicans Weave a Climate Conspiracy at the Final Debate of 2023

Who “did the ESG”?

Ron Desantis.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Who, or what, was the biggest villain of the fourth Republican debate? Vivek “The Most Obnoxious Blowhard in America” Ramaswamy would, of course, be an easy pick. So too would “the three previous Republican debates,” which were all so painfully boring that most Americans probably didn’t bother to investigate if Wednesday’s host network, News Nation, was actually a real channel. (Whadda you know, it is!).

But there was another villain, too: a shadowy threat that, you’d think from the tone on stage, imperils nothing less than American freedom, our values, and everything we love. And no, it wasn’t Donald Trump. It was, shudder, the woke climate agenda.

The topic first lurched on stage in the form of Republicans’ favorite three-letter boogeyman, ESG. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took an opportunity to brag that he pulled $2 billion in Floridian pensions from Blackrock “when they did the ESG.”

“This ESG,” he went on, “they call it ‘environment, social, governance’ … they want to use economic power to impose a left-wing agenda on this country. They want basically to change society without having to go through the constitutional process.”

But that boogeyman doesn’t look quite as scary when you turn the lights on. While it’s true that DeSantis targeted ESG as part of his crusade against “woke capitalism,” Bloomberg noted in January that

…[t]he Florida State Board of Administration — which oversees roughly $180 billion in pension money — didn’t hold investments labeled as ESG when DeSantis ramped up his campaign last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Even after the state’s treasury said it would pull $2 billion from BlackRock amid DeSantis’s criticism, the world’s largest asset manager still oversees $12.9 billion for the state’s retirement funds.

Okay, well, the nefarious climate agenda must be hiding elsewhere? Sure enough, a little later in the debate, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley alleged that DeSantis is beholden to Chinese companies like “JinkoSolar,” which he supposedly gave “$2 million in subsidies.”

Sounds ominous! But a closer look also revealed the facts to be a little less exciting: “JinkoSolar predates DeSantis,” PolitiFact explained after Haley tried a similar line of attack during a November appearance on Fox & Friends. Besides, “state governments typically lack the authority to bar an established business from making operational decisions, unless those businesses are breaking the law” and “JinkoSolar hasn’t been charged with a crime.” PolitiFact rated the whole attack as “false.”

Reference to the dark conspiracy of the climate agenda surfaced a third and final time during the debate in the form of Ramaswamy’s closing remarks. Ramaswamy has long railed against what he calls the “climate change agenda,” presumably climate policy, calling it a “hoax.” But he used his final minutes on the mic before a national audience on Wednesday to warn that it’s also a false idol. “If you thought COVID was bad, what’s coming next with this climate agenda is far worse!” he insisted. “We should not be bending the knee to this new religion! That’s what it is, a substitute for a modern religion! We are flogging ourselves! And losing our modern way of life! Bowing to this new god of climate! And that will end on my watch!”

“Thank you. Ambassador Haley?” Megyn Kelly transitioned, evidently unruffled.

Admittedly, it’s hard to take Ramaswamy’s alarm (or, well, Ramaswamy himself) seriously. But for those watching closely — which, again, it’s more than understandable if you’re not! — a clear pattern is beginning to emerge. Republican candidates are attempting to divorce the actual climate agenda from the “cLiMAte AgENda,” a made-up specter they can scare their base with, the same way they previously weaponized and rendered meaningless words like “critical race theory” and “woke.”

But if that doesn’t frighten you, you know what is really spooky? The Iowa caucuses are less than six weeks away.

Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City. Read More

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