Bill Whalen

Schwarzenegger goes off course on his latest quest

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, right, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, appear at the first New Way California Summit, a political committee eager to reshape the state GOP, in Los Angeles on March 21.
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, right, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, appear at the first New Way California Summit, a political committee eager to reshape the state GOP, in Los Angeles on March 21. AP

I don’t have a problem with Arnold Schwarzenegger adding Don Quixote to his assortment of action heroes.

So be it if the ex-governor wants to tilt at windmills. When he’s not talking about suing oil companies for contributing to global warming (“first-degree murder”), he wants to cure the California GOP of its conservative bent.

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Bill Whalen

What I don’t understand is Schwarzenegger’s choice of Sancho Panza Ohio Gov. John Kasich, his sidekick in redistricting efforts in the Buckeye State.

Opinion

Here’s what Schwarzenegger recently told a CNN interviewer about Kasich, a Republican rival of Donald Trump’s in 2016 who is not shy about hinting that he’s available for political hire when his term expires at year’s end.

"If Trump does a great job, then there's no reason to replace him. But what I'm saying is that John Kasich is a great alternative should he (Trump) not perform, because we don't know yet.”

Schwarzenegger is right: We don’t know yet. But he may be wrong about Kasich as a Plan B.

A poll released last week by Baldwin Wallace University has Kasich losing to Trump in Ohio 62 percent to 27 percent in a GOP primary in 2020. That’s a 46-percentage-point swing from two years ago, when Kasich won Ohio’s GOP primary by 11 points.

And that’s the problem with talk of a 2020 Kasich challenge to The Donald. Done the wrong way – i.e., a suicide run against a sitting president in a string of primaries dominated by GOP loyalists – it’s only more tilting at windmills.

Kasich is no Ronald Reagan, who nearly took out GOP President Gerald Ford in 1976, winning 11 of 28 primaries, including California by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.

Kasich, on the other hand, only won one state in 2016 and only 11 percent in the California GOP primary. While Reagan was the tip of a conservative spear, Kasich is but one of several disaffected anti-Trump Republican voices. That’s not so much movement politics as it is opportunism (plus an exaggerated sense of self-worth).

Should Kasich be serious about ridding the world of the Trump presidency, there’s a less quixotic way to go about it: Form a third party and target the president where he’s weakest: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Trump won the White House by besting Hillary Clinton in those three states by a collective 77,000 votes, barely half of his losing margin in Sacramento County.

And that takes us back to Schwarzenegger’s quest to reorient the California GOP, including last week’s launch of his New Way California advocacy group and his call for a cleansing financial fast: “The people that are funding the Republican Party should turn off their financial support, because that would starve the party, and I think they would then maybe come to their senses.”

One can argue there was a better play for Schwarzenegger this year. Why didn’t he start a centrist party of his own and take advantage of the open primary system that he successfully fought for eight years?

Imagine him as a U.S. Senate candidate under the banner of a California New Way Party. Maybe he doesn’t have enough juice to defeat Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But he might have finished ahead of Kevin de Leon in the top-two June primary. Such a run could have encouraged like-minded moderates to get into the game.

Ironically, this is one of California Republicans’ chief complaints with Schwarzenegger’s time as governor: He wasn’t sufficiently interested in party-building. Maybe one day he will do just that – though it might be a party of his own making, in his own image.



Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at whalenoped@gmail.com.
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