Today’s RealClear Politics links several op-eds on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s candidacy for governor of California.

John Fund say’s Arnold is a strong candidate, but no shoo-in.

With 60 days before the Oct. 7 recall election, Mr. Schwarzenegger’s brilliant political tease has cost him valuable time in what will have to be a blitzkrieg campaign.
Even with his knack for sound bites, Mr. Schwarzenegger faces a daunting task. The campaign desperately needs position papers on key issues that will help demonstrate the actor’s plans for overcoming California’s $38 billion budget deficit. Without a clear plan, his opponents will attack him for being vague. Every issue that he dodges–from reform of Medi-Cal (the state’s version of Medicaid) to pollution in the Colorado River–will bolster the perception that he is too inexperienced to be governor.

Doug Gamble of the L.A. Times apparently doesn’t understand how this election will be run,

It appears he deliberately misled some of his own political advisors, who had been saying that the actor was unlikely to run. The question is, can he mislead enough Californians into believing that he is the one to rescue the state from an unprecedented financial crisis and set it on a path back to its former glory? At the moment, most Californians apparently don’t think so; a recent Los Angeles Times poll found that 53% of registered voters were not inclined to vote for him.

If he gets 47% of the vote, that’ll be roughly triple what the #2 candidate gets, Doug.

Of course Schwarzenegger is an amateur politician, one who may have many voters asking where’s the beef, as opposed to the beefcake. In a celebrity-obsessed society, the candidacy of a movie star with little political and no government experience may not seem so absurd in more tranquil times, but when the state is hanging by its fingertips over a pit of fiscal calamity?

Comparisons between Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan are both ludicrous and an affront to those who revere the former governor and president. Not only did Reagan pilot the Screen Actors Guild during one of the most tumultuous eras in its history, he also immersed himself in politics and public policy long before running to be chief executive of California.

Reagan also had something else that Schwarzenegger may not have: a thick hide for the indignities of the campaign trail. In the weeks leading up to the recall election, Schwarzenegger will learn that the inquisitors of the political press corps bear no resemblance to the fawning posterior-kissers who populate the celebrity beat. Then there will be the inevitable tabloids.

He doesn’t even compare with his “Predator” co-star Jesse Ventura, who was a real-life action hero as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam and served four years as mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minn., before running for governor of that state. If Ventura is known for the line, “I ain’t got time to bleed,” from “Predator,” Schwarzenegger seems to be saying, “I ain’t got time to pay my political dues.”

But that’s the beauty of this unorthodox, plurality winner take all race: you don’t have to have paid your dues.

Peter Bradshaw echoes a similar line,

So if politics is showbiz for ugly people, aren’t pretty people in a position to clean up? The example of Reagan could be an inspiring one for Arnie. Reagan was no intellectual; he turned to politics when his B-movie career was on the wane and he was starting to get offered bad-guy roles. (Gore Vidal, however, refused to consider him for the role of the president in his 1959 play The Best Man, because “he would hardly be convincing”.)

Doesn’t Arnie need only to be an attractive, plausible figurehead for ideas developed by his political producers and scriptwriters? Possibly. Yet Reagan was a shrewd political operator: a two-term president who won the cold war.

It’s not easy to see if Schwarzenegger, or any modern movie star, has the aptitude for political candidature: an existence that is less protected than the life of the Hollywood A-lister. And politics is different from showbiz in one important respect: the past matters. In Hollywood, if you do a terrible movie that bombs at the box office, it needn’t matter – if you follow it up with a smash, then all is forgiven. But in politics, you can make a mistake that comes back to haunt you even after your poll numbers have come back up.

Mitch Frank of Time thinks this is a two-way race between Arnold and Lt.Gov. Bustamonte,

But now some real grownups are getting in the race. (Yes, it’s odd to call a six-time Mr. Universe and the star of Kindergarten Cop a political grownup, but Schwarzenegger has been preparing for this for years, unlike say, Coleman.) Several Republicans may file soon, though the recall’s biggest backer, GOP Congressman Darrell Issa, ceded the field to Arnold.

Methinks Arnold wins such a race.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. BigFire says:

    Arnold apparently have read “The Art of War”. In war, it is sometimes necessary to deceive your own ally. By keeping his decision very very close to the vest, he insured that the true intention doesn’t leak out, making his appearance on “The Tonight Show” all that more meaningful.

  2. Except he let the scoop get away from the show by announcing at a news conference after the taping but prior to air time. It’s not his fault, but NBC must have been pissed.

  3. BigFire says:

    Not really. Since he had already announced that he’ll make his intention known on the show (and his associated have already prepared a press conferences) lots of reporter were already on hand to cover it. However, what he did was to call off the “I’m not running press release”, and turn off his phone. His own advisors couldn’t find him for the next 12 hours.