There’s been lots of bashing of Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) here on Grist lately — see Kate here, Brad here — and with good reason. The guy has a good chance of being the next Republican House leader and he is, to put it bluntly, dumb as a box of hair. Guy like this, it’s hard to know if he’s lying, exactly, because you can never really tell whether he understands the situation well enough to distinguish lies from truth. But he certainly says lots of incorrect things.

Anyway, though, this post isn’t mainly about Pence. It’s about Republicans and climate change and how both the media and the Dems should be approaching the subject.

Pence put in an absolutely astonishing appearance on Hardball this weekend:

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Before I say anything about this, I also want to dredge up this interview with House Minority Leader John Boehner from a couple weeks ago. Watch:

Now, there’s been lots of discussion and ridicule of both these clips, but most of it has focused on the scientific illiteracy. And yes, it’s amazing that after all this time, after all these hearings, neither of these Republican leaders seem to have the faintest understanding of what the problem is even supposed to be. A “carcinogen”? WTF?

But to me the more significant aspect is that Stephanopoulos and Matthews have finally done something that, astonishingly, virtually no mainstream journalists have, which is press Republicans on what their solution to climate change is.

The public largely understands that this is a problem; they largely accept the science. They get nervous when specific solutions are discussed, which is why Republicans want to spend all their time talking about the Dems’ “national energy tax.” But they do believe that this is a problem that needs to be addressed.

And on that terrain, Republicans are completely a mess — a familiar mess, trapped between their increasingly loopy base and the American mainstream. Their base is full of flat-earthers that don’t believe the scientific consensus. Limbaugh, Beck, and the rest will be outraged if a Republican leader acknowledges that it’s a real problem. On the other hand, the public and the establishment accept that it’s a problem and are in the midst of debating solutions. So Republicans have to offer something. That’s where the coal- and nuke-heavy “all of the above” nonsense comes in.

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But the position is unsustainable. It crumbles with just a little pressure, as you can see from the above videos. Republican leaders want to say, simultaneously, that climate change isn’t caused by CO2 and that the public should trust Republicans to reduce emissions. It’s incoherent and grossly dishonest.

It’s a serious indictment of the media that more journalists haven’t pushed on this. And I don’t know why Dems aren’t pushing it. The lever is effective and easily available, and it moves debate onto far more favorable territory.

All they have to do when faced with Republican opposition is ask: what’s your solution? The only response available to Republicans is to deny the science and look like troglodytes or accept it and suffer at the hands of their base.

In short, Republicans have no answer. They can’t solve a problem they don’t believe exists.