It once was established wisdom that California stood on the cutting edge of American culture, and, in Republican politics at least, the established wisdom was correct.
Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, the two dominant Republicans of the last half of the 20th century, both began their careers in California.
But California is no longer on the cutting edge of American politics, and Arnold Schwarzenegger could be about to demonstrate it.
Schwarzenegger may be elected governor in California's unique Oct. 7 recall election. But if he is, he will not represent the future of the GOP. Although Schwarzenegger himself is constitutionally barred from the presidency because he is a naturalized citizen, no Republican who adopts his basic profile on the issues will be elected to the White House anytime soon.
Schwarzenegger's views on many issues remain vague. But on the most contentious social issues -- abortion and gay rights -- he is clearly no conservative.
On Aug. 9, the San Francisco Chronicle quoted Schwarzenegger as saying he is a "fiscal conservative, very conservative . . . but when it comes to social issues, I'm moderate."
In a Los Angeles Times Magazine profile last year, reporter Mark Z. Barabak wrote of Schwarzenegger: "He favors legalized abortion . . . and adoption by gay parents."
On Fox News's "O'Reilly Factor," on Aug. 16, 2000, Schwarzenegger described himself as "extremely liberal" on social issues, and said: "I'm for choice. The women should have the choice. The women should decide what they want to do with their bodies. I'm all for that."
In its Aug. 18 issue, Time Magazine reported that Schwarzenegger once told Cosmopolitan magazine: "I have no sexual standards in my head that say this is good or this is bad. Homosexual -- that only means to me that he enjoys sex with a man and I enjoy sex with a woman. It's all legitimate to me."
If Schwarzenegger wins, advocates of a "socially moderate" Republican Party -- i.e., a party at peace with legalized abortion and the gay-rights agenda -- will use his victory as evidence to support the nomination of Schwarzenegger Republicans elsewhere, especially in the 2008 presidential race.
If they succeed, the party loses. Here's why:
First, the conservative activists who sustain the GOP derive their views on pro-life and gay issues from moral values they cherish far more than party affiliation. For them, the party is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
Secondly, the Electoral College strategy most likely to put future Republicans in the White House embraces a Heartland Majority that doesn't depend on winning Northeastern and Western states that are trending leftward on social issues. This Heartland Majority includes all the states President Bush won in 2000 -- the South and most of the Midwest -- plus those he narrowly lost in the Midwest: Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Plus, it puts Republicans in position to win some large northern states Bush lost by larger margins, including Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Republicans win votes from conservative Heartland Democrats -- many of whom are evangelical Christians or Catholics -- by taking conservative stands on social issues.
Finally, recent polls reveal conservative national trends on abortion and gay rights. The pro-abortion Center for the Advancement of Women last month released an update on a two-year survey of 3,300 American women. In 2001, the survey showed that 45 percent of woman favored banning abortion in most or all circumstances. This year, 51 percent favored banning abortion in most or all circumstances.
Gallup last month released a poll on gay issues that followed the Supreme Court's June decision to overthrow the Texas ban on homosexual sodomy. Between May and July, support for the belief that "homosexual relations between consenting adults" should be legal dropped from 60 percent to 48 percent. Support for allowing gays to "legally form civil unions, giving them some of the legal rights of married couples" dropped from 49 percent to 40 percent. But views varied by region: Americans supported legalized homosexual relations in the West (53 percent) and East (59 percent), but not in the Midwest (45 percent) or South (42 percent).
California may be going in Schwarzenegger's direction. But much of the rest of America is going the other way.