Jonah Goldberg

But that would have been true of anybody. Indeed, the irony is that while Schwarzenegger was in most respects the least qualified major candidate (I don't count Huffington as a major candidate; she was at best a major nuisance), he alone might have what it takes to get the job done.

State Sen. Tom McClintock, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and even Gray Davis all had better credentials for being governor. But there was - and is - one thing Schwarzenegger has that none of the others had: popularity.

If Gray Davis were on fire, most Californians wouldn't even bother to spit on him. Cruz Bustamante, a Latino Mr. Whipple look-alike who had little to say and was as dull as dry paint saying it, had little support outside those who believe being a Hispanic is a major qualification (there's nothing wrong with being Hispanic of course, but, really, who cares?).

But Schwarzenegger is popular, really popular.

Obviously, such popularity is useful at the polls - that's how democracy works, after all - but it's also powerful in office. I would have preferred McClintock as governor, but it's entirely possible that McClintock would have been powerless to effect real change in California. He would have been perceived as the ringleader of the "right wing cabal" that Gray Davis kept prattling about.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger can campaign around the state putting popular pressure on recalcitrant Democratic legislators. He's already proved he can go over the heads of the liberal establishment in California and speak directly to Californians. Not many politicians can survive a weeklong barrage from the L.A. Times, but he did.

The question is whether Schwarzenegger will use that popularity to be a "revolutionary" figure, as some of his boosters, including blogger-columnist Andrew Sullivan, suggest, or whether he'll quickly fall into the sort of difference-splitting moderate mushiness we've come to expect from Michael Bloomberg, Arlen Specter and other RINOs (Republicans In Name Only).

I'm hoping for the best, but I have my doubts. The presence of so many movie stars and Kennedys on his victory podium is not a great portent. But Schwarzenegger deserves the benefit of the doubt for the job he has to do. And he deserves some credit for the campaign he ran to get that job.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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