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Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo by J. Countess/Getty Images

Climate change is playing a larger — and more polarizing — role than ever before in a presidential election.

Why it matters: In the past, the topic barely registered with voters and candidates were less polarized. Today, all Democratic candidates are treating it as a crisis, with detailed plans and funding sources to address it, while President Trump ignores the problem and bashes those plans.

Driving the news: In the Nov. 20 Democratic presidential debate, Joe Biden called climate change "the" existential threat to humanity while Pete Buttigieg championed the notion of a "carbon-negative" farm. Billionaire Tom Steyer said if elected he would call a state of emergency on his first day in office over climate change.

  • Billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who officially announced his candidacy on Sunday, has spent $500 million in recent years on global climate-related efforts and in June committed another $500 million for a Beyond Carbon initiative.

The big picture: The impacts of climate change, like more intense wildfires and more severe flooding, are increasing in frequency. Meanwhile, ways to solve the problem, like renewable energy, are becoming more affordable, even while the science increasingly says the problem is growing more dire.

  • These developments taken together are making climate change a tangible issue for broader swaths of the population than in the past — so it’s permeating our politics in newly forceful ways.

Between the lines: Multiple surveys of public opinion show Americans' growing concern about climate change being driven almost entirely by Democrats.

  • Democrats are looking to clamp down significantly on fossil fuels and enact ever-more aggressive and expensive plans, embodied around the Green New Deal rhetoric.

Where it stands: Trump mocks and rejects mainstream climate-change science and is repealing virtually everything predecessor Barack Obama's administration did on the matter.

  • Trump will bash the ultimate Democratic nominee's climate change plan as radical, while that person will bash the president for denying science. Don’t expect an inch of common ground.

Flashback: Here’s a brief run down memory lane.

  • In the 2016 and 2012 presidential contests, climate change didn’t register much with either the candidates or voters.
  • In 2008, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama both acknowledged climate change as a problem and put forward aggressive policies.
  • The topic rarely came up in presidential contests before that, largely because it was just beginning to emerge as a public issue. More traditional environmental problems were paramount.

Climate change has received far more attention among Democratic candidates than it ever has in the past.

  • Although the topic is still not a top focus in the Democratic primary debates, CNN and MSNBC both hosted forums for the candidates to discuss climate change.
  • Several current, former or potential candidates have made the topic a top priority for them, including Steyer and former candidate Jay Inslee.
  • These men have never been likely nominees, but their attention on the topic has created pressure on the entire field to respond in kind with similarly aggressive policies.

The other side: Congressional Republicans, who have mostly ignored climate change for the last decade, are looking to respond to what is a growing public opinion trend of young people more worried about climate change than older people.

  • House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy told The Washington Examiner recently that his conference will be introducing a series of bills aimed at responding to the Green New Deal. “Let’s have that debate instead of everybody saying we’re just deniers,” McCarthy said.
  • Trump campaign spokeswoman Sarah Matthews criticized the Green New Deal and Democrats' plans to significantly curtail — or even eliminate altogether — fossil fuels.
  • "In contrast, President Trump continues to advance realistic solutions to reduce emissions while unleashing American energy like never before," Matthews said.

Reality check: Emissions are going back up under Trump, but expect this talking point in any case.

But, but, but: Climate change is unlikely to be the top issue for most voters in 2020.

  • The complexity and decades-long nature of this problem makes it uniquely ill-suited for politics operating on two to six-year cycles and makes it unlikely to ever be the top priority for any sizable portion of the population.
  • More imminent concerns, like health care and the economy, will almost always win out with most voters.

The bottom line: That all said, we’re entering a new high water mark for climate change and its political saliency.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

America on borrowed time

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Economic recovery will not be linear as the world continues to grapple with the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Why it matters: Despite being propped up by an extraordinary amount of fiscal stimulus and support from central banks, the state of the global economy remains fragile.

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 14 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.