National Opinions

Arnold gave California its own ‘Trump moment’

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, center, and former Gov. Gray Davis, next to Schwarzenegger, teamed up in 2008 to urge voters to support the extension of the state’s legislative term limits.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, center, and former Gov. Gray Davis, next to Schwarzenegger, teamed up in 2008 to urge voters to support the extension of the state’s legislative term limits. Associated Press file

Some across the country were surprised Donald Trump got elected. Americans distrustful of Trump were just having what I would call a “Schwarzenegger moment.”

Seeing the former “governator” in the news because he’s going to host Trump’s old “Celebrity Apprentice” was not shocking in that Arnold Schwarzenegger is a media star, but shocking in the sense that parallels between Arnold and Donald are almost too much to bear.

For those too young to remember, or for those who just blocked the episode from memory, 13 years ago the voters of California elected Schwarzenegger to be their 38th governor in a recall election. He was sworn in Nov. 17, 2003.

Few felt Schwarzenegger was qualified, but that was beside the point. Folks were fed up with Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. On Election Day, when Ahh-nold won, many were asking, “What happened?” He had zero experience in government and rode a wave of anti-Sacramento sentiment and celebrity to the highest office in the state.

Like Hillary Clinton, Davis had clouds over his head – the energy crisis was raging (remember rolling blackouts?) and the state budget was in disarray. Davis’ competency and truthfulness were in question and his lukewarm responses to those charges didn’t help. There were other similarities:

▪ Schwarzenegger’s personal wealth (he put over $10 million into the race) was like Trump’s infusion of his personal cash into the presidential race.

▪ In the days before Twitter, Schwarzenegger famously announced his candidacy on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. He blamed Davis by name for the state’s problems and purposely paraphrased a scene from the movie “Network”: “We are mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

Adding: “I know they’re going to throw everything at me and say I have no experience and I’m a womanizer and I’m a terrible guy … (but) I do not have to bow to any special interests. I have plenty of money. No one can pay me off. Trust me, no one.” Sound familiar?

▪ Davis could not survive the juggernaut posed by Schwarzenegger’s relentless references to “The Terminator,” as Clinton did not survive Trump’s attacks and her email scandal. Arnold was elected with less than 50 percent of the vote – 48.6 percent. The recall ballot had 135 candidates and gave the election to whoever won the most votes … majority or not.

▪ Strange coalitions of voters appeared this year, as they did in 2003. Forty-five percent of Latinos and fifty-nine percent of women voted for Schwarzenegger to replace Davis. In Florida this year, roughly one-third of Latinos supported Trump, despite his messages about building a wall and his xenophobic zeal.

Schwarzenegger won re-election to a full term in 2006, but things went downhill quickly and his reign in office did not end nicely. Jerry Brown was elected in 2010 and returned some sanity, stability and “normalcy” to the office. The governorship in California had been bent, but not broken.

In 2003, the governorship became a reality show, as the presidency is becoming at the national level. Many will watch – similar to how we kept a fascinated eye on Arnold, first lady Maria Shriver and the first family years ago.

Perhaps Trump is thinking there could be more to pass onto his children than just Trump-branded hotels and golf courses – maybe he can pass on the White House. It is certainly not unheard of for fathers to want to bequeath the presidency to a child (think John Quincy Adams or George W. Bush taking over the family business and building a dynasty), so we may be in for more Trumps to come.

Would it not be interesting to see Ivanka Trump run against Michelle Obama in 2024 or 2028?

If I had said in early 2007 that Barack Obama would be a two-term president followed by Donald Trump, it would have sounded ridiculous. Now, America’s “Schwarzenegger moment” has just begun.

David Schecter teaches political science at CSU Bakersfield. He wrote this for The Fresno Bee. Email dschecter@csub.edu.

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