Bill Whalen

Trump doesn’t compare to Reagan, or Schwarzenegger

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Dubuque, Iowa, on Tuesday. Bill Whalen says any similarities with Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger are overblown.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Dubuque, Iowa, on Tuesday. Bill Whalen says any similarities with Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger are overblown. The Associated Press

Let’s take a break from such taxing matters as gasoline and tobacco and talk about a political commodity equally as toxic and combustible – Donald Trump.

The frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination – words I never imagined typing – won’t be in California in full force for another couple of weeks at the Sept. 16 debate at the Reagan Presidential Library. Still, The Donald has managed to weave his way into the local conversation.

For openers, there’s last month’s proposed Senate Resolution 39, which calls upon “private businesses and individuals throughout California to end all business ties with Donald Trump, The Trump Organization, and any affiliated entities.”

A quick glance at shows a 30 percent stake in the Bank of America building in downtown San Francisco, plus the Trump National Golf Club and its adjacent luxury residences down in Rancho Palo Verdes. Which would be the greater PC transgression: a devout baker who refuses to work a same-sex marriage, or the wedding planner who takes a gig at Trump National?

Trump’s other California connections are his insistence on comparing himself to Ronald Reagan, and the media’s insistence on equating Trump’s surge with the merry-go-round that was Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2003 gubernatorial recall election.

As political presences, Trump and Reagan are light years apart. Reagan was an optimist. Trump is a scowling nativist. Yes, Trump is correct in pointing out that Reagan, like him, was a Democrat-turned-Republican. But Reagan pleaded abandonment (“I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, it left me”), whereas Trump was a registered Democrat as recently as 2009.

As for the Schwarzenegger comparison, it’s valid only in that celebrity status again has turned an American election into an internationally watched freak show. Otherwise, the two don’t stack up, for three reasons:

▪ While Schwarzenegger, like Trump, lacked a working knowledge of most public policy as a neophyte candidate, the future Governator – rather than take his cue from TV talking heads, as Trump boasts – called on a Sacramento insider, GOP consultant Joe Rodota, to assemble a crash course known as “Schwarzenegger University.” The day Trump stands next to George Shultz and tells Warren Buffett to do push-ups, we’ll know he’s serious about governing.

▪ Schwarzenegger, upon taking office and then taking his lumps in the ill-fated special election of 2005, was a bipartisan leader. He broke bread with then-Senate Leader John Burton and broke conservatives’ hearts by bringing Democrats into his smoking tent. The closest Trump comes to bipartisan is calling all politicians “stupid.”

▪ On some issues, Schwarzenegger was a generation ahead of his fellow Republicans, breaking with GOP orthodoxy on stem cell research and climate change. Trump isn’t cutting-edge. He threatens to push the party backward on immigration – all the way back to the 1920s and an age of “national origins” and “Asian exclusion.”

There’s one more way in which The Donald and The Arnold differ and it should worry political reformers. This fall marks a dozen years since Schwarzenegger waved a broom on the steps of the state Capitol. In 2015, where’s the outrage over a Legislature that rarely misses a chance to tax its way out of trouble – and a governor who defines his role as a “brooding omnipresence” as opposed to “guiding light” or “master of the bully pulpit?”

Across the rest of America this hot summer, anger has been boiling over at the political class – outrage made worse by Trump’s special blend of insults, bullying and huckstering. In the Golden State: golden silence from the electorate. Maybe that ends when Trump comes to the state – and even better, if someone tells The Donald to put a sock in it.

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