PESSIMISM

You just gotta love the news cycle. A couple days ago, the world was abuzz with Arnold’s bid for Guvunuh. Now, we’re being flooded with “Arnold will lose” stories. RealClear Politics alone features several.

John Fund, one of the few who didn’t fall for Arnold’s “I’m not running” head fake, thinks Cruz Bustamante might win. His rationale is rather backhanded:

Mr. Bustamante shouldn’t be counted out. Whereas he is the only major Democrat on the ballot there are three plausible Republicans aside from Mr. Schwarzenegger (as well as scores of fringe candidates). Mr. Bustamante will be able to raise large sums of money from public-employee unions and Indian tribes, and Democrats will likely mount a major voter-registration drive for him, encouraging Hispanics to come to the polls.

Yet even Democrats acknowledge that Mr. Bustamante wouldn’t be their first, or even second or third, choice to hold on to the governor’s mansion. They consider him an uninspiring politician, and he has a reputation as being one of the most indecisive figures ever to achieve power in state government.

Columnist Ruben Navarette of the Dallas Morning News says he has known Mr. Bustamante for more than 10 years and has “never been particularly impressed with his leadership ability.” Mr. Bustamante can’t automatically count on support from Hispanic voters, Mr. Navarette says, because rank-and-file Hispanic voters “are still likely to be inspired by Mr. Schwarzenegger’s story, his confidence and his outsider appeal. In the end, I expect the Terminator to do as well or better with Latino voters as any of the other top tier candidates, including Mr. Bustamante.”

Bob Novak offers an interesting insight into why Schwarzenegger ran in the first place:

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s late decision to jump into the California recall election was made after weekend meetings to plan what was supposed to be a campaign for governor by Richard Riordan. The two men, nonconservatives and only nominal Republicans [There is such a thing as a legitimate moderate Republican.-ed.], are friends and political allies. But the multimillionaire movie actor was disturbed by the demeanor of the multimillionaire former mayor of Los Angeles.

As Schwarzenegger later related to associates, he was unpleasantly surprised by his old friend. In their private conversation, the 73-year-old Riordan duplicated his shaky performance in losing the 2002 Republican primary for governor. To Schwarzenegger, Riordan seemed so confused and disorganized he could not possibly be elected governor. That was the trigger to create the state’s current uproarious scene, casting a long shadow on national politics.

Novak’s assessment of the LtGov is similar to Fund’s:

Bustamante certainly will not win on charisma, but he has many advantages: the only substantial Democrat in the field, his Latin ethnicity, and perhaps most important, the title ”lieutenant governor” on the ballot.

This rare opportunity for a little-known political lifer to become governor depends, ironically, on the ability of conservative Republicans to tear down Schwarzenegger as an untrue believer. Simon and McClintock have begun the assault, and the news media immediately began pressing the new candidate to detail his positions. Longtime Democratic hit man Bob Mulholland talked about shooting ”real bullets” at Schwarzenegger (though state chairman Torres said he cautioned him against ”using that word again”).

The Republican establishment in Washington clearly hopes the Terminator can deflect those bullets. Schwarzenegger’s posture as a pro-business social liberal is similar to what former Gov. Pete Wilson advocated as the last Republican elected to high office in California (in 1994). No genuine conservative has been elected in California since Ronald Reagan in 1970. Arnold Schwarzenegger may not be much of a Republican and not conservative at all, but George W. Bush welcomes anybody invigorating a comatose California GOP.

Michael Tomasky goes further than simply saying Arnold could lose:

Arnold Schwarzenegger will not be the next governor of California. What’s more, his loss will represent an important moment in a shift in American politics that has been in gestation for some time now — toward a politics in which voters make decisions more on the basis of their cultural affinities than in response to a candidate’s charisma or fame.

The media have already decided Schwarzenegger is close to a shoo-in. The Time magazine poll — in which he led Gov. Gray Davis by 19 points and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante by 10 — was widely perceived as showing his strength. In fact, it showed exactly the opposite. Schwarzenegger is probably among the two dozen most famous people in the world. A lieutenant governor is a lieutenant governor; he can drive himself to the video store and stare at the shelves for 45 minutes without a soul noticing. Usually a political candidate who is already famous and enters a race starts out polling high and has nowhere to go but down once he starts sounding more like a politician and less like a movie star. That Arnold led Bustamante just 25-to-15 should be very worrisome for Schwarzenegger partisans.

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A few years ago Arnold’s fame and stature could have more than likely overcome these deficiencies. But something has been changing in American politics in recent years. A series of corrosively divisive events have made Americans choose sides to a degree that has no recent precedent in American politics. The Clinton impeachment, the 2000 election and the debate over the Iraq War have been the main events. But larger cultural developments and controversies, from same-sex marriage to whether one believes Martha Stewart and her $248,000 windfall are really worth a prosecutor’s time, have created an America in which engaged citizens are defending their cultural and ideological turf and are increasingly distrustful of the people and institutions that don’t share their mores. It’s a climate, in other words, in which great fame or a winning personality is less likely to trump people’s deeper concerns about the state of the culture and the direction the country is heading.

Ruben Navarrette is less sure about the ethnicity thing:

As a Mexican-American native of California, I never thought I’d be reacting with such ambivalence to the possibility that the state might elect its first Latino governor in modern times.

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Rank-and-file Latino voters may quibble with some of Schwarzenegger’s personal views, but they are still likely to be inspired by his story, his confidence and his outsider appeal.

In the end, I expect Schwarzenegger to do as well or better with Latino voters as any of the other top-tier candidates, including Bustamante. And in the process, he is sure to bring to the polls whole segments of the population who either never have voted or who long ago stopped voting because all the candidates started looking and sounding the same.

Sandip Roy and Rene P. Ciria-Cruz approach the ethnicity question from a different angle:

In California, where one in four residents is foreign born, the entry of an Austrian Hollywood star and a Greek anti-corporate pundit has electrified the recall contest. But will their gubernatorial bids make immigrants the swing vote at the ballot box?

Both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Arianna Huffington touted their immigrant roots when they launched their candidacies. Though fewer immigrants know about Huffington, or even that she is an immigrant, Schwarzenegger’s success story does resonate among California’s foreign born.

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But in a system where immigrants often feel left out of the electoral process it is no coincidence that the two high-profile immigrant candidates are both not career politicians. “Their candidacies are an indictment of bureaucratic politicians,” says Arvind Kumar, editor of the San Jose monthly India Currents.

Though he thinks the recall is “a costly waste,” Kumar hopes Huffington and Schwarzenegger can energize the debate. “What’s interesting is that they come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, proving you cannot put immigrants in a box.”

Sue Hutchison thinks the most interesting demographic variable will be age:

Is it possible that having a “do-over” election with a smorgasbord of candidates that also includes a former child sitcom star, a watermelon-smashing comedian, a smut peddler and a billboard bimbo just might lure young voters into participating for a change?

Last year, barely more than a third of all 18- to 24-year-olds voted — fewer than any other age group — and only half of 25- to 34-year-olds went to the polls. There was also a record-low number of California voters ages 18 to 29 in the 2000 presidential election.

Since the recall is turning into its own twisted version of `”American Idol,” I wondered if that might entice young people to vote out of cynicism or outrage — or just for fun. Granted, the last thing we need is more clueless voters making uninformed choices. But if young voters are drawn into the recall circus only out of curiosity this time, I wondered if maybe they’ll make a habit of voting and becoming more informed next time. After all, can things get much worse than they already are?

Unfortunately, Maureen Sedonaen thinks they can. Sedonaen is executive director of the Youth Leadership Institute in San Francisco, which studies ways to involve young constituents in the electoral process. She says the recall is likely to further alienate young voters because it’s become an exact replica of a high school popularity contest, the worst form of “government'” they know.

`”What we’re hearing so far is that young people are even more disappointed and disgusted than usual with the process,” she said. “A ballot with 193 names on it is not going to get them excited about participating. Really what this does is show why voters, especially young voters, are so disengaged from politics.”

Amusingly, perhaps the sanest note on all this comes from Jesse Ventura:

Ventura said he did not support the California recall election and reminded viewers that while he ran as an unconventional third party candidate, he did it during a regularly scheduled election cycle.

Ventura, a Navy SEAL during Vietnam and a mayor before he ran for governor, played by the rules and won by the rules — which included same-day voter registration, allowing voters to register and vote for him at the same time.

Rather than reveling solely in the wackiness of the California recall effort, shouldn’t the media make a good faith effort to examine the budget crisis that is the underpinning of this particular moment in political time? On July 29, the San Francisco Chronicle published a thoughtful editorial entitled “Distorting the budget crisis.” Noting that the paper’s editorial pages had taken Davis to task in the past for “displaying insufficient leadership,” the editorial went on to say: “But to blame him for creating it is an even more egregious claim than Al Gore taking partial credit for creating the Internet.”

FILED UNDER: US Politics
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.

Comments

  1. John says:

    Personally, I think the Republicans are taking a huge risk here. It’s going to be a close call, no matter who wins. And if the Republican (whomever) wins with something like 25% of the vote, that’s going to leave an unbearable after taste in the mouth of the rest of the state. Then, of course, the person still has to solve a problem with a really pissed off Democratic government. So, my feeling is, even if he (Arnie) wins, it’s going to be a Pyrrhic victory. And if he loses to a Dem or Davis doesn’t get recalled, the blow to the Republican party is going to be astounding. This seems incredibly risky regardless of the outcome.

  2. James Joyner says:

    John,

    Could be, I guess. If Davis gets recalled, it will certainly be a bipartisan effort, given that it’s a Democratic state. Not much doubt about the difficulty in dealing with a Democratic legislature, but that’s the situation a Republican would face regardless. And, if Arnold manages to pull it off, I think he has the charisma to generate something of a mandate.

  3. Paul says:

    The Republicans are not taking any risk… They are not the ones doing this despite the Clintonian spin. The people of California are.

    The people of California are unhappy with a Dem gov who has taxed and spent them into oblivion.

    How can that be bad for the Republicans either way?

    Paul

  4. John says:

    Well, it’s a) organized entirely by republicans b) the republicans are pinning everything – including the heart break of psoriasis – on Davis c) painting the democrats with the same tar brush. If they win, then you guys look like a big bunch of idiots for getting beaten by such losers. That’s why you downplay expectations. It’s like walking into a bar and calling everyone a wimp and challenging them to a fight. You damn well better win because you are going to look like the biggest loser in the world when you crawl out all bloody.

  5. John, I wish you’d wake up to how disgusted California DEMOCRATS are with Davis.