Mitt Romney just had an awesome week but, unless he attracts new groups to the Republican coalition, it still seems he won’t win the November election. If he wants to win, he’ll need to broaden his base. One reasonably easy way he can do that is by attracting gay and lesbian voters and the other is by attracting environmentalists. Since it seems hugely unlikely he’d make the policy flip-flop he’ll need to get the gay vote, environmentalists may be his best bet for broadening the base without sacrificing a single stated principle.

A bit on Romney’s great week first and why it probably won’t deliver the election. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker just survived a recall attempt; President Obama claimed (bizarrely) that “the private sector is doing fine” after bad job numbers raised questions about his stewardship of the economy; and even Ron Paul’s son, Rand, endorsed Romney. In fact, it’s difficult to think of a better turn of events for Romney’s campaign.

That said, barring a full-scale recession between now and the election, I’d still put money on Obama to win. Romney hasn’t led in the polls since last September. Quite simply, Obama will likely be able to make up for a decidedly lackluster domestic economic record by relying on a few genuine foreign policy successes, the power of incumbency and a mobilized base.

Since the (few) positives in Obama’s record and the incumbency are unalterable, the Romney camp can only win by shaving parts of Obama’s base.

And environmentalists are one place big place where it could work. Stanford University researchers have found that about 38 million Americans care a lot about the environment and might vote on it. Assuming that environmental voters turn out at roughly the same rate as other citizens who can vote, this means that somewhere between 15% and 19% of the electorate will vote partly on environmental issues.

Although there’s no current, detailed polling, it’s likely that Obama currently stands to get around 75% of this group — taking 50% of it would probably be enough to put Romney over the top. So how can he do it?

First, Romney should commit to a comprehensive  program to reduce the damage that the government does to the environment. This is conservative bread and butter and, luckily, there’s a pre-written agenda (okay, I’m one of the authors) — Green Scissors — on how to do it. In addition, Romney should work to expand conservation by expanding the principles of the successful, money-saving Coastal Barrier Resources Act. The act, signed by Ronald Reagan, forbids the functioning of many federal programs on barrier islands and along barrier beaches and, in so doing, has created an area of protected land larger than all but one National Park in the lower 48 states.

Second, Romney should continue his attacks on Obama’s bureaucratic command-and-control  environmental policies — blocking the Keystone XL Pipeline, placing all sorts of new EPA mandates on industry — with simpler, equally pro-environment policies. In particular, Romney should commit his environmental protection agency to trying to price externalities resulting from pollution. This wouldn’t be the (fairly) derided and unworkable “cap and trade” schemes but, rather, a way of replacing bureaucratic mechanisms with market ones. Since pollution of all kinds is what Ronald Reagan called a “destructive trespass,” it’s perfectly consistent with conservative principle to impose fees on those who emit pollution. This type of system will do far more to clean up the environment than heavy-handed, economy-harming direct regulation and, if all the fees were rebated to consumers or used to cut other taxes, wouldn’t necessarily increase the size and scope of government. It’s a winner and has, particularly in elite circles, already attracted attention from environmentalists.

The bottom line: environmentalists, unlike other core democratic groups — government workers and welfare recipients among them — aren’t necessarily clients of the state and don’t intrinsically benefit from bigger government or the continuation of given programs. Likewise, there’s no necessary link between the environment and much of the Democratic Party’s agenda that promotes abortion and disdains traditional faith. In fact, there are plenty of places that bigger government actually harms the environment. Romney can get environmentalists to vote for him without sacrificing conservative principles. He should do it.

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