On Monday night, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders dared to go where only the bravest in his party has gone before: Fox News. The network organized an hour-long town hall with the Vermont senator, and the event turned into a “ratings smash.” Almost 2.6 million viewers tuned in.
At the town hall, topics ranged from Sanders’ new millionaire status and his recently released tax returns to Medicaid for All.
When asked about national security, Sanders seized the opportunity to pivot to one of his favorite overlooked topics. “I’ll tell you what else, in my view, is a national security issue,” the Vermont senator said. “We have got, as a nation, to reject Trump’s idea that climate change is a hoax.”
Here’s where it got interesting. Sanders went on to frame climate change using some ideas from the conservative playbook, citing possible migration in the Middle East as a consequence of global warming.
“I fear very much the kind of world that we’re leaving to our kids in terms of more drought, more flooding, more extreme weather disturbances, more rising ocean levels,” Sanders said. “And when those things happen, by the way, they become a national security issue because people migrate. If I’m living in the Mid-East someplace and I can’t grow food on my land, I’m going to pick up and leave, and that causes conflicts.”
Sanders has linked conservative talking points with environmental plight before. During a 2015 Democratic primary debate, he said, “Climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism.”
There is some evidence that climate change exacerbated drought conditions leading up to Syria’s civil war and thus helped spark the ongoing refugee crisis. Sanders isn’t the first politician to note this. But it’s interesting that in the mere two minutes he spent discussing the environment, Sanders chose to mention migration, the Middle East, and job creation — hot-button topics for conservatives — rather than other issues like hurricanes Harvey and Maria, wildfires, or the Green New Deal.
And the audience seemed to respond. Sanders drew cheers when he said transitioning to renewable energy would create millions of new jobs.
He’s not the only one making appeals about climate change recently on Fox, a network where taking the topic seriously is foreign territory. Earlier this month, climate activist Jack Vandeleuv took to the airwaves on a viral “Breakfast with Friends” segment to make the case for taking the Green New Deal seriously. And in March, millennial presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg explained why a carbon tax on buildings will stimulate the economy in a lightning round on Fox News Sunday.
Sanders’ success on the network may have paved the way for fellow Democratic candidates: The Hill reports that Buttigieg is in talks with Fox for another town hall.