TWO RIGHT FEET

WaPo’s Evelyn Nieves reports on the quandry facing conservatives in California:

Although the front-running, media-grabbing, superstar candidate for governor is a Republican, he is not their kind.

He supports abortion rights, gay rights and gun control. If his recent statements, and those of his economic adviser, Warren E. Buffett, are any indication, he may even be against tax cuts.

So what if Arnold Schwarzenegger displays a bust of former president Ronald Reagan in his office? To conservatives, he is no Ronald Reagan. Rush Limbaugh, a Reagan fan, has been sounding the alarm on his radio talk show about Schwarzenegger’s moderate views since the actor announced his intention to challenge Gov. Gray Davis (D) in the Oct. 7 recall election. “Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Limbaugh said the other day, “is no conservative. Period.”

Indeed, to many rock-solid conservatives, Schwarzenegger is so moderate that he might as well be a Democrat. Conservative Bill Simon, the millionaire businessman who is running again after narrowly losing to Davis in the 2002 election, has started airing radio ads calling the action movie star a “liberal.”

This is hardly surprising and, indeed, at this stage of the campaign, the Republican candidates are engaged in a quasi-primary. But primaries winnow the field to a single candidate and tradition requires that those defeated rally their supporters around the winner. This may well not happen:

For conservatives, Lowry said, one hope is that one of the two conservatives drops out so as not to split their constituency — a plea heard regularly on conservative talk radio. The other hope is that Schwarzenegger articulates a clear and direct vision that endorses a no-tax pledge and reversal of the regulatory policies that some feel have driven businesses away. “Then he would earn a degree of conservative sympathy,” Lowry said. “I doubt we would ever be jumping up and down for him, but it would help.”

The National Review could tell its California readers not to vote for Schwarzenegger should the actor not show leadership and a strong Republican vision for the state, Lowry said. Even if it means costing the party the election, “it doesn’t do the Republican Party any good to have someone who’s not willing to offer an alternative to what’s already in place,” he said.

For Simon and McClintock, that means staying in the race until the end, their camps said. “We offer clear alternatives to celebrity sound bites,” said Stoos of the McClintock campaign. “We believe one of the conservatives will come out on top.”

What this ignores is that, even if there’s not much ideological difference between Bustamonte and Schwarzenegger (and I don’t know that to be the case) it is clearly in the interests of a political party to have one of their own in high office because of the political advantages that affords. Further, while abortion is certainly a touchstone issue differentiating left from right in U.S. politics, it is a non-issue at the gubernatorial level. Not only is it still constitutionally protected by judicial decisions–and that is unlikely to change any time soon, absent a filibuster-proof Republican takeover of the Senate in 2005–but even if it were “in play” the California legislature isn’t going to outlaw it. California is not a conservative state; the best Republicans can hope for is a moderate.

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.