A distracted celebrity who parachutes into an emergency election on a late-night whim with a political philosophy still under construction resembles a vain elitist more than a populist. “Mobilizing the Machine: Schwarzenegger is harnessing his talent agents and Hollywood contacts to raise funds and rally the electorate,” reads a headline in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times.
This is populism? Rob Lowe, whose previous grass-roots experience includes appearing on NBC’s West Wing, will lend a hand. So will the Creative Artists Agency. “Candidate Schwarzenegger wants to cast his agents against type as aides in his run for the California governor’s seat,” says the Times.
Schwarzenegger is lighting his populist prairie fire not at Republican barbecues in Placer County but in his agents’ offices in Beverly Hills. This, says the Times, “is part of a broader move to line up Schwarzenegger’s Hollywood support team of publicists and entertainment business associates — many of them Democrats — behind his Republican bid to replace Gov. Gray Davis.” (Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger has blown off grassroots Republican events. One Republican county chairman called Schwarzenegger’s campaign for buttons and bumpers sticks to hand out at a fair. “I never heard back. I didn’t get a phone call,” he told the Times.)
Hollywood handlers, usually asked to stand as a buffer between their star and the encroaching common man, are now a pillar of Schwarzenegger’s populist campaign. Bonnie Reiss, a Schwarzenegger campaign organizer working in Hollywood, says without irony: “Because of Arnold and Maria’s circle of friends in the entertainment community, the phones have been ringing off the hook…We’re following up with all of them to help invigorate the electorate.”
Invigorating the electorate? No, Schwarzenegger is invigorating the elite. Normally the scourge of the Republican Party, the Hollywood elite is warming to the idea of a Schwarzenegger governorship. They recognize him as a fellow liberal and regard the “R” after his name as a convenient charade. Peter Bart of Daily Variety chuckled to CNN that he is a “Schwarzenegger Republican.” The Times reports that “director-producer Bud Yorkin, a liberal Democrat, said he wouldn’t hesitate to vote for Schwarzenegger,” and Canadian movie director Ivan Reitman is planning to co-host a fundraiser for him next month.
Schwarzenegger is the sort of Republican Hollywood can let out of the closet — a Democrat in Republican garb. Hollywood liberals are no doubt thrilled at the chance to help Schwarzenegger turn the state Republican Party into an appendage of their own.
The Schwarzenegger victory superficial Republicans so crave is a victory for liberals. When the Democrats can get Republicans starry-eyed over a de facto Democrat like Schwarzenegger, they have already won. A Republican Party that loses its principles in order to win still loses. Having lost its principles on the way to victory, it will govern without principle, rendering its victory meaningless.
If the California Republican Party believes that no real Republican can win in the state — this is the argument that many establishment Republicans use to justify a Schwarzenegger run — then it is declaring itself useless. Why should rank-and-file Republicans give money and support to a state party which just exists to raise the white flag?
Gray Davis, in his non-apology apology on Tuesday, said that the recall is a “right-wing” power grab. Would that it were true. It is more like an establishment liberal power grab. A Bustamante-Schwarzenegger race is akin to a Democratic primary. Bustamante is the liberal Democrat, Schwarzenegger the somewhat more moderate one. Establishment liberals win either way, while Republicans are reduced to cheering for Democratic lite.
Some victory. Schwarzenegger’s agents at CAA will have engineered a populist win no more substantial and real than his movies.