But climate change is not “extremely out of the mainstream.” Concern about climate change in the United States is the highest it has ever been. On the heels of a deadly wildfire season supercharged by climate change and a report by 13 federal agencies finding global warming poses a serious threat to the economy, Americans are more convinced than ever that emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks are having an impact on the planet.
In many ways the Green New Deal, with its call to power the country entirely on wind, solar and other zero-carbon energy and ensuring the United States eliminates as much carbon pollution as it creates by about 2030, has injected a new enthusiasm for tackling the problem: Every Democratic presidential candidate has been pressed on his or her support of the plan, and it has helped propel climate change into a top-tier issue for 2020.
But it also has created awkward moments for moderate Democrats. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, for example, was excoriated and mocked on “Saturday Night Live” after she told a group of visiting school children that she opposed the Green New Deal because it wasn’t practical and “there’s no way to pay for it.” Ms. Feinstein has a 90 percent lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters, which rates lawmakers on their environmental votes and policies, and has sponsored major climate change legislation for more than 20 years.
Joseph Pinion, a Republican political consultant who advocates a carbon tax, criticized Green New Deal supporters for making it a purity test of support for to address climate change. He called the resolution “possibly the largest setback in terms of getting Republicans to the table certainly in my lifetime.”
By packaging efforts to curb emissions with unrelated issues like promises of a federal job guarantee, vacation pay for all Americans and a single-payer health care system, he said the Green New Deal feeds the belief among conservatives that Democrats are using climate change as a cover to enact a broadly liberal economic agenda.
“The problem with the Green New Deal is that it unifies Republicans. From your never-Trumpers to your Trump skeptics to your Trumportunists, all of these individuals are united in the idea that the policies of a Green New Deal would be disastrous for America,” Mr. Pinion said.
But polling on the plan is strong, at least among Democrats. Data commissioned by environmental groups in early primary states found 74 percent of likely primary voters reacted favorably when the Green New Deal. A new Iowa poll this week reinforced that, finding 91 percent of Iowa Democrats want a candidate who supports the Green New Deal.
“If anything the Green New Deal has brought energy to an issue that had gone stale,” Mr. Whitehouse said, “and as long as we can stay united and keep making progress, it will work out really well for us.”