Arnold Schwarzenegger’s selection of archliberal Susan Kennedy, a former Cabinet secretary to Gray Davis, as his new chief of staff “is the last straw for a lot of grassroots California Republicans,” says California Republican Assembly president Mike Spence to TAS. Spence describes the appointment as the equivalent of “George Bush appointing Howard Dean to be his chief of staff.”
Even the jaw of George Skelton (the Los Angeles Times columnist who has spent much of his career telling the California GOP to move left) dropped after the appointment of Kennedy, who is one of the state’s leading abortion proponents, a high-profile lesbian activist, and a former aide to many prominent California Democrats. “There simply is no precedent — at least in any current political lifetime — for what Schwarzenegger did Wednesday. Appoint a hard-core, dedicated soldier from the enemy camp as his chief of staff. Not just an ‘advisor’ or ‘counselor’ — but his No. 1, his alter ego,” Skelton wrote.
The door behind which Schwarzenegger kept his de facto Democratic ideology has long been ajar and visible, but now he has kicked it wide open, and not even craven, win-at-all-costs Republicans can ignore it. Susan Kennedy herself blurted out the basic truth about Schwarzenegger: “I think a moderate Democrat and a moderate Republican — there is not a lot of light between us.”
This point had been made during the Recall, but California GOP officials, relying on the usual “Big Tent” song-and-dance and shallow pragmatic arguments, cast it aside. They were given a choice between a meaningful victory with real Republican Tom McClintock or a hollow victory with a de facto Democrat, and they chose the latter. One immediate problem was solved, but multiple new and longterm ones were created.
A conservative revolt is brewing and will likely upend the “French wing” of the California Republican Party, says Spence. He has been bombarded with calls and phone calls from seething California Republicans. They feel burned and view the Kennedy appointment as a point of no return. There is talk, he says, of drafting Tom McClintock to run against Schwarzenegger, and “Mel Gibson’s name is being floated.”
That a center-left Republican like Schwarzenegger will do more damage than a liberal Democrat is almost axiomatic at this point, and rank-and-file Republicans have been burned enough times to realize it. Because “moderate” Republicans appear less crazy than liberal Democrats and can neutralize Republican resistance through false promises and fake appeals to party unity, they can get away with all sorts of dubious things. Many of Schwarzenegger’s “accomplishments” — from his billions-for-cloning proposition to his gun and environmental laws to his routine appointment of Democrats to judgeships — are moves that would have met stiff resistance had Gray Davis proposed them.
Schwarzenegger’s selection of a former Gray Davis cabinet secretary as his chief of staff perfectly illustrates the lost opportunity of the Recall: instead of ending the Gray Davis agenda, the Recall extended it, and shrewd Democrats who let Davis twist in the wind knew it, seeing Schwarzenegger as a Trojan horse for liberalism and a far more effective proponent of the Davis agenda than Davis ever was or would be.
The California Republicans had a huge percentage of the Recall vote to work with, and they squandered it on a celebrity who just happened to have an R. after his name. Had Schwarzenegger not parachuted into the race on the Jay Leno show (which was one of many signs that California Republicans were about to be taken on a very silly ride) and so easily convinced GOP leaders to back him despite his obvious indifference to much of their stated platform, Tom McClintock would have won easily, and the direction of the state government would have changed substantially. Real debates, not the me-too debates into which Schwarzenegger has been consistently drawn, would have occurred, and the party would have grown through morale-boosting fights.
Schwarzenegger’s chief-of-staff fiasco confirms that when the Republican Party forfeits its principles in order to win, it has no principles left once it does, leaving it in tatters, both philosophically and politically. Even the crassly political argument for blindly supporting Schwarzenegger — that his glow would cause the ranks of the California Republican Party to swell — has proven illusory. The state party is now viewed as a pitiful arm of the hybrid Schwarzenegger administration, wholly severed from the conservative movement and useless to propel its officeholders to victory.
Schwarzenegger hasn’t enlarged or energized the Republican base, and his blatant giving away of the store is likely to undercut the chances of Republican officeholders across the board in the next election. The Kennedy appointment, plus Schwarzenegger’s plan to give the Democrats much of what they want in the next budget, is expected to sap morale when the party’s aspirants need it most.
“This is the kind of the thing that can hurt all our state wide nominees,” says Spence. “This is going to drag down the whole party.”