Why I'm voting for Arnold Schwarzenegger

Posted: Aug 13, 2003 12:00 AM

Conservatives are upset with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Cal Thomas writes that Arnold "is a social liberal and is bound to disappoint conservative Republicans." George Will states that Schwarzenegger "could hardly be less like Reagan." Mona Charen derides the leading candidate for California governor as a Ross Perot clone.

Thomas, Will and Charen are right. But I'm voting for Arnold anyway.

Schwarzenegger is the best thing to happen to California politics since Ronald Reagan. Which isn't to say that his positions resemble Reagan's -- they don't. Reagan was staunchly anti-abortion, while Schwarzenegger is pro-choice. Reagan was obviously an opponent of same-sex marriage, while Schwarzenegger is ambiguous on the issue. Reagan was a dedicated fiscal conservative, while Schwarzenegger espouses higher government spending.

So why would I vote for someone who is the epitome of the liberal Republican? Specifically because he is a liberal Republican. In California, nothing else will cut it. It's very easy for pundits to espouse the candidacies of hard-core conservatives like Bill Simon and Tom McClintock. But they have no chance of winning. None. In California, politics trump principle every time.

In the last gubernatorial election, I naively believed that the principles of solid conservatism could triumph over the unsuccessful record of liberalism in California. In the Republican primary, when Bill Simon went up against Richard Riordan, the popular former mayor of Los Angeles and liberal Republican, I voted for Simon. The conservative base felt betrayed by Riordan's liberalism, and it too went with Simon.

If ever a real conservative had a chance to win in California, Simon was the guy. Even Democrats were disenchanted with Davis. But Simon ran a brutal campaign, bumbling, fumbling, stumbling his way to defeat. And I realized that I should have voted for Riordan. Even though Riordan was no Ronald Reagan (or even Pete Wilson), he couldn't have been worse than Gray Davis has been. Riordan would have crushed Davis in the general election. Republicans blew it.

Now, Republicans have another chance. This is Riordan vs. Simon, part two, with Schwarzenegger playing the part of Riordan. Schwarzenegger is more popular than Riordan. He's younger, better looking, more charismatic and with better name recognition. He's also a smarter politician. Just as he kept the public guessing for weeks about whether or not he would run for governor, he's now keeping the public guessing about his positions. This means that the incompetence of Gray Davis remains the focus of the recall. And after Schwarzenegger is elected, his name recognition will prevent the Democrats from staging a retaliatory recall effort.

Schwarzenegger won't fix the state in the short run. It's too far gone for one man to fix. The California assembly is dominated by socialists, so Arnold will spend much of his time vetoing. The only bills he will be able to jam through are those that funnel cash to his favorite causes, education in particular.

But in the long run, the Schwarzenegger candidacy can help the state far more than just another conservative defeat. The vast majority of voters in California pull the lever for Democrats on a regular basis. In the 2000 presidential elections, George W. Bush campaigned hard in California. Al Gore didn't spend a dime and won the state easily. Why? Not because the positions of Californians are so far to the left but because Californians are accustomed to voting Democrat. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in the state 45 percent to 35 percent. It's inconceivable to many Californians to even consider voting Republican.

That's how Arnold will change things. Independents, who break heavily Democrat in California, will consider Arnold. Democrats who are disillusioned by Davis and attracted by Schwarzenegger's middle-of-the-road stance will consider Arnold. Young voters who have never stepped into a polling booth in their lives will go vote just to punch their cards for Schwarzenegger. The Hispanic populace, which greatly admires Schwarzenegger's masculinity and charisma, will pull the Republican lever.

In California, these groups dominate the voting constituency. And for the first time in a long time, the Republican label won't turn them off. That is Schwarzenegger's big contribution. His candidacy will change minds about voting Republican. Then, in the future, when ideologically sound Republicans run for office, Californians won't dismiss them out of hand.

Arnold won't change the makeup of the Republican Party from the inside -- he'll change the perception of the Republican Party from the outside. California Republicans will be marketable -- and more importantly, electable. That's something even the strongest conservatives should appreciate.