Enter the ‘Governator’

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Austrian-born body builder turned actor (who once championed a Mr. Universe contest) is relinquishing his barbells and cheesy one-liners for… arguably even cheesier one-liners. But this time his scripted punch-lines are not about tumors or robots who have taken over the earth — this time, Ah-nold’s talking politics. And no matter how amusing his delivery, he has managed to scare some Democrats into breaking rank with embattled Governor Gray Davis.

Schwarzenegger announced to NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno last Wednesday that he was throwing in his acting towel for a while and dedicating himself to ousting Governor Gray Davis from office. Agence France Presse reports:

“‘It is my duty to jump into the race and to bring hope to the people in California,’ the cigar-puffing, 56-year-old Republican said as he broke the news in an interview with US talk show host Jay Leno.

‘People are sick and tired of politicians, therefore it’s important for me to run and to win, to go to (state capital) Sacramento, to clean house,’ he said vowing to campaign strongly for the polls aimed at toppling Davis.

‘The man that is failing the people more than anyone is Gray Davis. And this is why he needs to be recalled.'”

Schwarzenegger blames Davis for California’s $38 billion deficit and has vowed to “pump up Sacramento” and its economy. But critics of the Terminator are skeptical about his follow-through, given his minimal exposure to politics. California’s economy, argues The Economist, is in dire straits and may be out of Arnie’s league:

“Is this a joke? Has California, a legendary gathering-ground of America’s kooks and crazies, finally gone off the deep end? The most populous state in the country and the world’s fifth-biggest economy is in a desperate mess, with a gigantic deficit, a crumbling infrastructure and a weak economy. This is surely no time to be calling on a man most famous for his uncanny ability to play a robot.”

Nevertheless, Schwarzenegger has managed to scare some Democrats and helped deflate Davis’ strategy of unilateralism. Democrats, though they were wavering in their support, had been standing their ground and sticking with Davis. And with word from the AFL-CIO that any Democrat who broke from the strategy would be committing political suicide, Davis’ strategy, as of early last week, was proving successful.

But Schwarzenegger’s announcement last Wednesday that he would join the recall mania put the first cracks in Davis’ united front. His colleagues, fearing Schwarzenegger’s popularity and media attention would make him a dangerous contender, finally broke out and put their names on the ballot. Two prominent Democrats, Cruz Bustamante, California’s lieutenant governor, and John Garamendi, the state insurance commissionerand, are among the first in their party to step forward and defy Davis. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Robert Salladay points out that Schwarzenegger may have considerable clout among alienated voters, which may put him ahead of his Democratic contenders:

“Schwarzenegger, freed from the bonds of conservative Republicans who control their party’s primaries, can now use all available media to fashion a campaign that appeals to the disaffected, who don’t vote and don’t care about politics. Oddly, it could take a Republican married to a Kennedy cousin to give the recall election the look of a populist revolt.

It remains to be seen whether Schwarzenegger can capture those Californians who clearly hate politics and are disgusted with both parties and politicians.

But Schwarzenegger — unlike other candidates — is expected to bring his unique mastery of media manipulation to the world of politics, effectively using the same powerful forces of entertainment television and PR to prod the disaffected into voting.”

Christopher Parkes writing for the Financial Times notes that the GOP is celebrating the division and disarray in the opposing party:

“Republican analysts were delighted, claiming that the entry of two and possibly more candidates would split the Democrat vote and improve Republican chances.”

The “Governator” also gains a considerable edge through his financial means. As Bloomberg writes, Mr. Universe is willing to do what it takes — even if that means plunking down millions of dollars to ensure his seat at the governor’s table:

“At a press conference following the television show taping, Schwarzenegger said he would spend ‘whatever is necessary — $5 million, $7 million’ — to win.

‘I have plenty of money,’ he said. ‘No one can pay me off. Trust me. No one.'”

We Recommend


Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.