"We need to change our party's image," said California Republican leaders, explaining their early enthusiasm for Arnold Schwarzenegger. If Schwarzenegger wins today, they will certainly get their wish. The face of the California Republican Party will become that of a Hollywood groper.
In the final days of the recall, Republican leaders became exactly what they opposed during the Clinton years: excuse-making, shoot-the-messenger shills for a law-breaking libertine. For the sake of one cheap win, Republicans embraced a Clintonian charmer credibly accused of groping up to 15 women (at last count). Where is the honor in this victory? Where even is the pragmatism? Is it "pragmatic" to solve one problem by creating a host of new ones?
The shilling for Schwarzenegger was Carvillian in its sophistry. Yes, the Los Angeles Times is biased; yes, the Democrats are hypocritical. Does it follow from that that all 15 women are lying? No. Even as Schwarzenegger in a roundabout manner conceded that groping took place, his Republican cheerleaders denied or downplayed the reports. This made them look dishonest, not his accusers.
Nor can Republicans console themselves that a crackpot allegation from someone like Rhonda Miller nullifies all of the allegations. Clinton used false charges to absolve himself of real charges.
After a surge of bad press, Schwarzenegger switched to a non-apology apology, relying on a vague denial of most of the charges while admitting to unspecified "playful" behavior. Apparently honesty wasn't polling as well as he and his advisers had hoped. On a television show this last weekend, Schwarzenegger, incredibly enough, promised to get to the bottom of his misdemeanors after he is elected governor. "I can get into all of the specifics and find out what is really going on," he said. "But right now I'm just really occupied with the campaign."
So his first act as governor, should he win, will be to investigate the charges against himself? That would cap a carnival-like recall. It is becoming clearer that by attempting to replace a corrupt pol with a corrupt actor California Republican leaders have not ended the state crisis but extended it. The press reports that Democratic Attorney General Bill Lockyer has "called on Schwarzenegger to submit to a state investigation of the sexual harassment accusations, regardless of if he is elected governor," and "Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said he will introduce a bill he called 'Arnold's Law' to increase the penalties for sexually harassing women in the workplace."
If Lockyer gets his investigation and discovers what Schwarzenegger has already confessed -- that he has molested women -- what happens then? Schwarzenegger is subject to a recall? One irony of a Davis defeat is that the Democrats then get a chance for clean leadership while Republicans are saddled with a confessed sexual assailant.
This is the sham foundation on which state Republicans have chosen to build their party. It won't take long for it to collapse. If Schwarzenegger wins, Democrats needn't lament their loss. They have already won more than they realize. They so rattled Republicans with their conservatives-can't-win rhetoric that Republicans ran into the arms of a Kennedy-family groper who will do more damage to the Republican Party than they ever could. Incidentally, it is ironic that the country club Republicans who refuse to believe the Los Angeles Times report about Schwarzenegger completely believe the Times when it editorializes that conservative Republicans can't win in the state.
When Republicans behave and think like Democrats -- by operating according to the same dishonorable ends-justify-the-means calculus as Democrats, by treating crimes as "no big deal," by accepting the Clintonian coarsening of American politics, by playing dumb about real scandal, etc. -- the whole political system moves to the left, which is a victory for the very destructive liberalism that the Republican Party exists to arrest. It becomes not the solution to the problem but part of it.
The lesser-of-two-liberals politics the California GOP takes as gospel means liberals win every election. Ordinary Republicans may soon come to see this as a futile and shameful politics -- a politics which leads anti-Clinton Republicans to entrust the state to a Hollywood libertine they wouldn't trust with their wives.