Just after the 1994 election when Republicans recaptured both Houses of Congress for the first time in forty years, people were not only speculating that then-President Clinton would be defeated for reelection, but also wondering whether he would survive a challenge for his own party’s nomination. Well, Clinton avoided such a challenge in 1996 and won reelection by a comfortable margin, even if he failed to win a majority of the popular vote.
Bill Clinton’s comeback that year is one of the great political stories of the 1990s. Under the guidance of political consultant Dick Morris, he turned the tables on his political opponents and convinced the American people he had their interests at heart. Under his strategy of “triangulation,” Morris had Clinton move to the center, compromising with the new Republican Congress on key issues, notably welfare reform, and so crafting an agenda somewhere between that of the Republicans and the Democrats.
This year, ten years since Clinton’s comeback, we are seeing a similar comeback in the Golden State. A year ago, most pundits (but not this blogger) wrote ogg our great Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as a political has-been. That Republican has invested a lot of time and energy into putting four proposals for reform on the ball last fall and lost all of them. His approval ratings plummeted.
A year later, not only have his numbers climbed, but every poll shows him leading his Democratic opponent — in a state where Democrats far outnumber Republicans — by double-digit margins. Governor Schwarzenegger has done this by moving to the center on a few issues and by running a brilliant campaign.
A registered Republican, I have received regular mailings (and phone calls) highlighting the conservative aspects of his record, opposing tax increases, pushing through pro-business reforms, supporting Jessica’s law. Meanwhile, his campaign has highlighted some of his policies which appeal to voters who tend to be left-of-center. Impressed with his environmental record, the PatriotSisterWest, a registered Democrat who lives in San Francisco, is considering voting for the incumbent Republican.
It seems that the Governator has adopted Dick Morris’ triangulation to the politics of the Golden State.
Just like they underestimated like another great Governor of the Golden State, Ronald Reagan, the media has underestimated Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not only has that good man managed to pull California out of its economic slump, but he himself has managed to reverse his own political fortunes. Like Bill Clinton, he has that rare combination of political savvy and charisma which has made it possible for him to bounce back from such setbacks.
Unlike Clinton, however, he has done it without demonizing his opponents. Whereas Governor Schwarzenegger has made much of the liberal policies of Phil Angelides (his Democratic opponent), he has not attacked that Democrat’s motives. And the Governor brings up Angelides’ liberalism, he does so to contrast it to his more conservative record. Neither the Schwarzenegger campaign nor the California GOP released the types of nasty commercials the Democrats did in 1995 (but outside the major media markets where, in the pre-You Tube days, they would be ignored by the MSM), commercials which made it appear as if the GOP ticket were Dole-Gingrich.*
While Schwarzenegger, like Clinton, bounced back from what seemed insurmountable setbacks, he has more in common with Ronald Reagan when it comes to campaigning and to leadership. Like the Gipper, he has a great sense of humor, abundant energy and an optimistic vision of the future where things will continue to improve for all Americans.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is as conservative as was the Gipper; he has tailored his politics to fit the mainstream of the Golden State in the first decade of the twenty-first century. And he has proven his critics wrong with his ability both to govern and to campaign.
And he has proven me right for having voted for him three years ago in the recall election — and given me something to look forward to on November 7 — when I will be voting once again for him to be Governor of California. Arnold Schwarzenegger has given Republicans at least one thing to look forward to on a day when pundits are forecasting gloom for the GOP elsewhere in the nation.
Who’d have thunk that this blue state would be one of our party’s best prospects in a year whose dynamics favor the opposition?
Thank you, Arnold!
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest)
*And this is another sign of Clinton’s luck. Had the GOP not nominated Bob Dole for President in 1996, those commercials would have been for naught.
UPDATE: Last night, I witnessed another sign of the Governor’s political savvy. I switched on Hannity & Colmes as I was getting ready to meet a friend for dinner. Sean Hannity was interviewing Governor Schwarzenegger. By warming up to this conservative talk show host, the Governor is reaching out to conservatives in the Golden State. He’s not taking those to the right of him for granted. Smart move, Governor.