Republicans for Environmental Protection is dropping the “Republican” — after 17 years of trying to demonstrate that a group can comfortably exist in today’s GOP while championing causes like global warming and opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The group’s new name is ConservAmerica, a name that’s supposed to represent “the inherent connection between conservation and conservatism” while appealing to an audience that has grown less party-affiliated.
“We’re seeing more and more independents out there,” said David Jenkins, the group’s vice president for governmental and political affairs. “Messaging through a Republican frame doesn’t reach those people as well as reaching them through a conservative frame.”
Still, Jenkins insists that Republicans — and conservatives as a whole — haven’t really abandoned the environmental cause, despite what people may be hearing from talk radio hosts and many of the GOP’s elected officials. Jenkins doesn’t think the party’s membership has changed that much since 2008, when it nominated John McCain as president.
“The radicals on talk radio want to define conservatives as much more of a libertarian type of frame,” he said. But he added, “If you see polling with Republicans on environmental issues, whether it’s fuel economy standards or clean energy, you’ll see the vast majority of Republicans are in favor of those things.”
The group also is keeping REP’s green elephant logo.
But some who largely agree with the group’s green goals say the Republican Party’s ideological shift is real — and a big problem for ConservAmerica.
“Under either name … they face a fundamental challenge that the pro conservation party of Roosevelt, Nixon, Schwarzenegger and McCain has become the climate science denial party of Romney, Santorum and Limbaugh,” said Daniel Weiss, director of climate strategy for the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
“Changing its name is unlikely to alter the Republican party culture where denial of climate science has become another litmus test,” Weiss added.
This year’s Republican presidential field has been marked by an all-but-uniform resistance to efforts to combat climate change, and a rightward shift by candidates like Romney and Newt Gingrich from their past positions.
Weiss praised Jenkins’s group as “a forceful advocate for public health and environmental protection policies within an increasingly pro Big Oil party.” He advised it to focus its efforts on younger Republicans and GOP-leaning voters.
Still, the new, more generic-sounding name will require more of an effort to let people know what the group’s message is — a fact Jenkins acknowledges.
“The other name, you read it once and you know exactly what the group is,” he said. On the other hand, “being more identified in the Republican lens versus a conservative lens has downsides as well.”
As of early Monday afternoon the change had yet to be reflected on the Republicans for Environmental Protection website. Jenkins said the changeover should occur later in the day.
For years, ConservAmerica has been the name of REP’s sister 501(c)3 organization. That nonprofit is now called the ConservAmerica Education Fund.