Arnold Schwarzenegger is on a mission to push his party away from the president.
The two-term former California governor said Republicans in the state need to be more moderate and distance themselves from the national brand.
“If you take your guidelines just from the party, it is deadly,” Schwarzenegger, a Republican, said. “It’s the party’s business to create an atmosphere of fighting with the party. That’s what they do.”
Schwarzenegger pushed for change within the GOP Tuesday afternoon at the second annual “New Way California” summit at the Crest Theater in Sacramento.
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He urged the 100 attendees to dedicate more of their energy to address income inequality and environmental pollution. He also demanded Republicans reflect on their role in contributing to the country’s national debt.
“We’re $22 trillion in debt. Where are the Republicans screaming about that?” Schwarzenegger said.
The former governor declined to criticize any specific Democratic policies, telling reporters after the event he thinks Gov. Gavin Newsom is doing a “terrific” job and “everything’s going well.”
“I’m pleased with what has happened since I’ve left the governorship,” he added, citing changes to redistricting policy and more open primaries.
But coming off sweeping losses in the 2018 midterms, he wants Republicans to gain ground in the Legislature and in Congress.
“I want to see a great Republican Party in California that can stand up to the (national) Republican Party,” he said. “It’s not healthy what’s going on right now. Democrats have absolute control of everything.”
Throughout the day, a number of Republicans said the key to moving forward is moving away from Trump.
Bill Kristol, a longtime conservative political analyst associated with the #NeverTrump movement of breakaway Republicans, called Trump a “symptom of our political party” who “also becomes a cause.” He then compared Trump to an infectious disease.
“If not treated adequately, it becomes much worse,” said Kristol, the director of the advocacy group Defending Democracy Together. “I think that’s where we are right now with Donald Trump and the Republican Party.”
Former Assemblywoman Catharine Baker fell short in her 2018 re-election bid, losing the GOP’s last Bay Area seat in the chamber. She said the pathway forward for California Republicans is to encourage more collaboration with Democrats.
“There’s a whole infrastructure in Sacramento designed to identify people on the other side of the aisle that you’re going to go after and people you’re going to protect,” Baker said. “That’s the world out there.”
At the summit, all roads seemed to lead back to Trump, with Schwarzenegger being the state’s most prominent critic. He told reporters after the event that former Ohio Gov. John Kasich “is more up my alley,” adding that he declined Trump’s request for an endorsement ahead of the 2016 election.
“As you know, Trump is not the most popular guy out here,” Schwarzenegger said.