Worse than Gingrich’s Medicare gaffe, or not as bad?

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney broke with Republican orthodoxy on Friday by saying he believes that humans are responsible, at least to some extent, for climate change.

“I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that,” he told a crowd of about 200 at a town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“It’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.”…

In addressing climate change and energy policy, Romney called on the United States to break its dependence on foreign oil, and expand alternative energies including solar, wind, nuclear and clean coal.

He said the same thing about climate change three years ago, which may have tied his hands in answering today. It’s a variation of his problem with RomneyCare: Either he reverses himself and apologizes for his previous position, which confirms voter suspicions that he’s a soulless opportunist willing to say anything to get elected, or he doubles down on his unpopular earlier position and risks hopelessly alienating the base. As with RomneyCare, he went with option number two. I see his logic, but in this case he’s got some flip-flop cover from Pawlenty, who’s already famously apologized for his previous endorsement of cap-and-trade. If Mitt now said, “My skepticism grew after Climategate” or “In a terrible economy, we need to prioritize growth” (and he probably will end up saying that), all would likely be forgiven. As it is, the I’ll-never-vote-for-this-RINO! vows are already piling up in the comments to our Headline thread on this. I don’t know what he was thinking.

Of course, McCain did okay among Republican voters even though he made no secret of his belief that carbon emissions are linked to global warming and even gave a speech on cap-and-trade after his nomination was secure. And he didn’t have the benefit of facing a Barack Obama who’s now even more widely reviled by conservatives than he was three years ago. Many sins can be forgiven in the name of winning, especially if/when Romney inevitably finesses his position here by endorsing “market solutions” to the problem instead of regulation. And as noted above, some of his competition is exposed on this issue too. Pawlenty, however apologetic he is now, will still be hammered with old soundbites by Romney’s team if he tries to attack on this; so will Palin, who ended up endorsing McCain’s scheme of carbon caps in her famous interview with Katie Couric (“I support all that we can do to reduce emissions and to clean up this planet”) before later slamming cap-and-tax plans in an op-ed in 2009. Going to be a lottttt of tu-quoquing on the trail this fall. Here’s the clip, via Think Progress.