Democrats, Don't Mess With People's Trucks

Democrats, Don't Mess With People's Trucks
Courtesy of Ford Motor Co. via AP
Democrats, Don't Mess With People's Trucks
Courtesy of Ford Motor Co. via AP
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Scott Pruitt recently announced that the Environmental Protection Agency is walking away from fuel economy standards developed by the Obama administration for 2022-2025. The Trump administration is proposing to freeze the standards at the 2020 levels through the year 2026. This would essentially halt progress on pushing automakers to sell more fuel-efficient cars and trucks — a priority for the environmental movement in the United States. In fact, according to one analysis, the transportation sector has been the top source of carbon dioxide emissions in America for two years running. 

This decision by EPA head Pruitt may be just another example of the Trump administration’s opposing anything supported by the Obama administration. But it could also have ramifications for Democrats in the future, especially those — oftentimes called Blue Dog Democrats — from rural or conservative congressional districts across the nation. 

I say this because it is my fear that Democrats, especially those from liberal parts of the country, will assail this decision as more evidence of Donald Trump’s hostility towards the environment and all efforts to slow the pace of climate change. While those accusations may be accurate, they will create an opportunity for Republicans to make the case to conservative voters that Democrats want to take away their trucks or make them more expensive. 

To people not from rural parts of the country who are reading this, let me assure you that the truck is a very important part of our lives. I have a truck, most of my friends and neighbors have trucks, and they are integral to a culture that cherishes a lifestyle more closely tied to the land and sea. In many ways, the love of trucks is similar to the love of firearms in rural America. Trucks and guns are both deeply ingrained in my community. 

Historically speaking, environmental votes have proven hazardous for rural congressional Democrats. Many people consider the Obamacare vote to be the reason why dozens of Blue Dogs lost their seats in Congress in 2010. But part of the reason was a vote Democrats took to curb climate change, which alienated many working-class and small-town Americans. That vote — in addition to Obamacare — cut the Blue Dog coalition in the House in half, with 22 of them losing re-election. This vote was particularly painful because I clearly remember Republican campaign operatives framed it as an attack on the energy and agricultural industries, which are critical components of many rural economies across the nation. 

Should Democratic leadership in Congress attack the Trump decision on fuel standards, it won’t be hard to imagine Republicans telling voters that their Democratic opponent and Nancy Pelosi want to take away their trucks. That ad will be false — no different from the ads saying that Chuck Schumer wants to take away your guns. But Democrats must not kid themselves -- those ads are effective because they make rural Americans believe that Democrats are hostile to their way of life. 

Across the nation, Democrats are extremely hopeful about their chances to take back the House of Representatives and potentially even the Senate in this year’s midterm elections. If recent special elections — including the victory of Democrat Conor Lamb, who won a House seat in a rural Pennsylvania district where Donald Trump thumped Hillary Clinton in 2016 — are a sign of the times, then Democrats in general should be in good shape. In my home state of Mississippi, there is a real potential for Democrats to win a Senate seat and the governor’s office. 

I do want to be clear: It is not my position that the 2018 midterms will be won or lost on fuel standards. However, Democrats in Washington must stay vigilant and not propose legislation and make statements that could imperil the election chances of moderate and conservative members of the party. To me, that means taking very liberal stands on issues like climate change and fuel standards. Progressives must not forget that the top-selling vehicle in America is the Ford F-150. I know that neither I nor anyone else I know wants to read about Democrats’ wanting to make their next truck more expensive.

Ronnie Shows, a Blue Dog Democrat, represented Mississippi’s 4thCongressional District from 1999 to 2003.

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