Some significant Republicans are openly speculating that it is only a matter of time before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declares himself a Democrat. What’s more, they claim he might as well already have switched political parties.
These are mostly the same people who spent much of last summer calling the governor a RINO – Republican in Name Only – as he adopted much of the Democratic Party’s legislative agenda while avowing the cause of bipartisanship.
“A party switch could happen very soon, any day,” asserts Stephen Frank of Ventura County, a former president of the California Republican Assembly and the writer of a daily conservative weblog. “I think it is in the works.”
While Schwarzenegger says nothing about any switcheroo and his staffers scoff, Frank and many others in the GOP’s right wing saw his espousal of the infrastructure bonds passed this fall as Propositions 1A through 1E as sacrilege, an abandonment of Republican small government, pay-as-you-go principles. They hated his signing the state’s precedent-setting new anti-global warming law. And they despised his signing a Democratic bill raising the state’s minimum wage.
Still, they were willing to live with all that during the election season, because they nevertheless found him far preferable to Democratic challenger Phil Angelides.
But they gagged when they heard his response to the Democratic takeover of both houses of Congress. “I think this is good that we have new blood coming to Washington, that we have new people and new ideas coming to Washington,” Schwarzenegger said during a two-day visit to Mexico just after the election. “I think it’s good that there are new ideas and new blood because Washington was stuck. They could not move forward…I think the people have spoken in America, all over the United States, and have sent a very clear message to Washington.”
Some California Republicans felt this was a very clear message to them, that they can expect in Schwarzenegger’s new term more of what he gave them this year. The immediate response from the state Assembly’s Republican caucus was to dump the relatively flexible George Plescia of San Diego from his post as GOP leader and replace him with Mike Villines of Fresno.
Wrote GOP Assemblyman Bob Huff, newly reelected from the generally conservative eastern suburbs of Los Angeles, “This is only the first of several changes that are needed. Sacramento will be a de facto one-party (Democratic) state unless the Republicans in the Assembly…stand united. If we don’t, we will be nothing more than a wire fence with an open gate for the liberal agenda to pass through.”
Huff implies that he, like many other Republicans, feels Schwarzenegger might as well already be a Democrat, even if he hasn’t called himself one. One Democrat who thinks the governor needn’t bother switching is Garry South, the longtime campaign strategist who served as top adviser to ex-Gov. Gray Davis and then ran last spring’s gubernatorial primary campaign for outgoing state Controller Steve Westly.
“He doesn’t have to change because right now he’s bigger than either political party,” South said. “He can grab support from both parties, just like he did this fall. I honestly don’t think party identity matters to him. He uses the party when it’s useful to him and abandons it when it’s not.”
That opportunism rankles a lot of Republicans. They resented the fact Schwarzenegger made not a single campaign commercial for any other Republican this year and even observed just days before the election that state Sen. Tom McClintock, the GOP’s defeated candidate for lieutenant governor, was “totally wrong” about some things.
Wondered Democratic consultant Roger Salazar in a post-election Internet message, “Where exactly did Arnold help the GOP? Has Arnold abandoned his party? Is he becoming a Democrat? Does he want to? Is he faking it?
“Look, Governor,” he added, tongue firmly in cheek, “If you want to join the real Party of the People (sic), it’s a simple process.”
To become a Democrat, all he’d need to do is fill out a new voter registration card, and Salazar attached one of those just in case Schwarzenegger wanted to do the deed instantly.
But he may never make an actual switch, staying content to be a frequent RINO who sometimes takes solidly Republican positions.
On the other hand, he might switch instantly one day. “It’s a 50-50 question,” said Republican consultant Arnold Steinberg. “He’s volatile, unpredictable and he’ll do what serves his interests. Plus, he’s capable of turning on a dime, as we have all seen several times in the last three years.”
All this talk is yet another reason Schwarzenegger remains the most interesting political figure in California, topping even House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi in both uniqueness and charisma.