Supporters of President Bush should be cautious about hitching their wagon to the recall star. Consider the potential results. Should Schwarzenegger or long-shot Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock become governor, there would be precious little time between their hasty inauguration and the 2004 presidential election. That's not nearly enough time to take on a potentially hostile California legislature and entrenched state bureaucracy. The ensuing media blitz to (unfairly) pin the old problems on the new GOP regime would quickly become a widespread blaming of the national party and President Bush.
Admittedly, a defeat of the recall, or a vote to replace Democratic Gov. Davis with Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, would also be treated as a setback for Republicans. But that perception would likely be short-lived. If Davis stays in power, there is little reason to believe he'll be anything but the same arrogant, out-of-touch governor Californians have grown to barely tolerate. A Bustamante win would be unlikely to produce any long-term benefits for Democrats nationally. Besides, California will probably remain a Democratic stronghold in the presidential race, regardless of what happens this fall.
For Republicans, the real lesson in all this is to stick with the GOP's fundamental philosophy. When California Democrats once attempted to recall then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, Reagan's supporters argued that while California law provided for such recalls, the Democrats' efforts were in fact an attempt to usurp the voice of the majority of voters who had already elected Reagan to a full four-year term. They were right. Whether it's a recall petition itself, or a judicial decision that makes a messy situation worse by setting court-mandated dates for voting, interference with the traditional political process tends to damage both elected officials and those who vote for them.
Let's be blunt. What looked like a great opportunity to embarrass the Democrats and rid California of a lousy governor has become a near freak show. The best-known candidate, Schwarzenegger, has spent too much time uttering silly slogans and sidestepping serious discussions that call for specific answers to complex problems.
The best move for Republicans is to act as if the whole recall effort has been nothing but a bad movie with limited distribution. Because -- believe me -- the final reviews are going to be mostly thumbs down.