Is Donald Trump the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the 2016 Presidential Election Cycle?

Mike Gleim, 108th Precinct Committeeman, serving on the Marketing and PR sub-committees

In 2003 I worked on the recall of Gray Davis as Governor of California, and the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace him. In 2006, I was Vice-Chair of the grassroots office of Arnold’s campaign in the City and County of San Francisco (Victory ‘06). There are some similarities between Donald Trump’s campaign and that of Arnold, and a few differences. I thought it might be interesting, and hopefully useful, to the committee to relate some of these. I am not currently supporting any particular candidate for the position of Republican Presidential nominee.

WHY did Arnold succeed in taking over as Governor of California during a period in which the state was facing a declining economy and budget crises into the future? What made an actor with no political experience, a pronounced foreign accent, and ties to the Democratic Party (through his wife, Maria Schriver) such an overwhelming choice for Governor of the eighth largest economy in the world?

Gray Davis was touted as “perhaps the best-trained governor-in-waiting California has ever produced.”, due to his position for years as Jerry Brown’s Chief of Staff (during Jerry’s first and second terms in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s), and his subsequent positions in state government (Legislature, Controller, Lt. Governor). He easily won election over Atty.Gen. Dan Lungren in 1998, and almost as easily over William Simon Jr. in 2002. During his first term, he benefited from a state budget surplus which he used to greatly expand various social programs. However, his second-term campaign was marred by the end of the dot-com boom and by the electricity crisis (which only later brought down Enron), which was exacerbated by his agreement to unwise long-term energy contracts. Having spent the temporary state surplus on ongoing programs, his later years saw the state facing large deficits as tax receipts fell. He was known as a policy wonk, whose personal charisma was reputed to reflect his name. He also reportedly engaged in “pay for play” practices, which often favored behind-the-scenes donors. He was perceived as corrupt, even if not prosecutable.

Darrell Issa, currently in Congress, used his personal fortune to bankroll the recall election in hopes of taking over as Governor. Unfortunately, Arnold stepped into the race at the last minute (actually making his decision and announcement on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show) and dominated the race almost all the way, even with numerous experienced and generally respected politicians running as well. Arnold skipped the first debate among the front-runners, but cleaned up in the second debate.

Arnold had one thing the other candidates didn’t have – celebrity independent of politics. He had instant name recognition from the start, a popular persona generated by his movie roles, and often surprised his opponents (in politics and the media) by being relatively smart and well-versed in economics. Like Trump, Arnold had built a fortune in real estate, and was perceived as somewhat insulated from many of the normal lobbying pressures. He used a self-deprecating sense of humor to deflect many of the personal attacks launched on him by his more run-of-the-mill opponents. Gray Davis’ campaigns used a lot of negative advertising; this worked to some extent against similar politicians, but it boomeranged against Arnold. Arnold’s policy pronouncements were broad strokes, followed up with details only when extensively pressed. As with Trump, Arnold was able to speak off-the-cuff, and didn’t worry about being politically “korrekt”. In addition, the campaign lasted only two months, and the democrats desperately scrambling to find any scandals could only come up with a bunch of women who claimed Arnold had “sexually assaulted them”. Ummm … Hollywood actor and champion bodybuilder, women, sex — where’s the news?

Trump has not only Arnold’s campaign as an example, but also Jesse Ventura’s in Minnesota (Jesse pre-dated Arnold). With Hilary imploding from her email scandal, it is entirely plausible that the Democrats will be faced with choosing among a group of ever-more-left-leaning pseudo-socialists (Warren, Sanders, etc.) and run-down hack politicians (Biden — and where is the book, “Codename: Doofus — The Halfwitticisms of Joe Biden”?).

Donald Trump is not a flash-in-the-pan candidate. In his Mobile AL speech, he commented that his three kids were well-equipped to take over his business, and that he has bigger fish to fry right now. His knowledge of Constitutional Law is arguably less than that of Barrack Obama, but even Trump’s marginal claim that the Fourteenth Amendment has been misinterpreted by several Supreme Courts over the years has some legislative historical support (though such history was available to prior courts as well). His approach to politics as another form of business may well allow him to cut through ephemeral issues of political “korrektness” and focus on economic power, an area where America has long excelled and one in which he and many others see us falling dangerously behind other countries and political actors. Karl von Clausewitz famously observed that war is a continuation of policy by other means; Trump might say that business is a continuation of war by other means.

Given his, and many expert commentators’, view that China and other nations are “eating our lunch” by their cyber-intrusions into our businesses and “looting” them of intellectual property and trade secrets, as well as stealing military secrets we can ill afford to lose, it is likely that one of Trump’s foci will be cybered war. It is also an area in which we have possibly fallen further behind in business. Given the view of many in government that business needs to be “forced” to attend to their cyber-vulnerabilities, Trump may argue that he will be able to mediate the necessary give and take between the two constituencies.

Trump can certainly afford to hire/recruit top-notch policy and political advisers. He likely doesn’t need many marketing advisers for other than technical details. Whether he can sustain a long-term campaign, especially once it starts to attract questions into policy details, is the key question for his candidacy (of course, Obama had the same question, but he had the press on his side covering for him, while Trump will not). However, unless and until he manages to tie himself up in conflicting details and inconsistent policy pronouncements, it is unlikely that other candidates will be able to generate much headway against him. Even though Arnold was always a Republican, his marriage to Maria Shiriver exposed him to numerous liberal influences, and many of his policies, especially in his second term, seemed more designed to appease Maria than advance a Republican policy set in California. [This may be somewhat pejorative. Arnold’s focus in his second term was more in trying to accomplish something, anything, with a legislature that was a majority of Democrats. The ONLY Republican influence was that they had a sufficient minority in the State Senate to prevent a budget from being passed — California at that time required a two-thirds vote in favor by each section of the legislature to pass a budget. Thus, his appointment of a long-time liberal Democrat as his chief-of-staff, and many other Democrats on his staff was meant as a “goodwill gesture” to encourage bi-partisanship. It failed.] Arnold made the mistake of accepting bipartisanship proffers at face value, Trump would likely NOT make that mistake.

Note that one glaring difference between Trump and Arnold, is that Arnold was much less of a narcissist than Trump. Arnold was always able to deflect comments criticizing him by humor, and then make the points he wanted to make, staying on target as it were. There are numerous articles desperately analyzing Trump as a classic narcissist. Various psychologists have compared Trump’s comments about himself with Barrack Obama’s. However, Obama did manage to win the Presidency twice, so narcissism may not be a disqualifying trait. On the other hand, the media is much more aligned against Trump than it was against Obama, so we can expect a constant barrage of articles critiquing Trump as the campaign moves forward. Trump’s comments about himself and his achievements are very different than Arnold’s were. For all his celebrity, Arnold was able to project an image of likable guy, someone with faults and flaws who was nevertheless successful. Arnold never forgot to emphasize that he came to the US from Austria with only a dream, and succeeded due to the opportunities that America provided him. He always seemed like someone you might find next to you in a bar. Trump can’t do this — his equivalent story might be, “I inherited $40 million from my father, and turned it into $8 billion by using the bankruptcy laws and overcharging rich foreigners for pricey apartments”. Not quite the same cachet.

Trump has much negative sentiment against him, even as he leads the very large pack of GOP nominees. Arnold never had that problem until late in his second term as Governor. Trump’s threat to splinter off and do a third party run “if I’m not treated fairly” by the Republican establishment should probably be taken seriously — even though everybody will note that such a move would virtually assure that the Democratic candidate would win. H. Ross Perot did this in 1992 and assured a Clinton win, Ralph Nader arguably did the same for George W. Bush in 2004. Even if he does so and earns the undying enmity of Republicans, Trump will still be able to do business, much as Ross Perot was.

At this point in time, I think it is unlikely that America is ready to once again elect a novice as President. However, I think they are eager to elect someone without obvious ties to the political establishment. Trump’s success so far, and Jeb Bush’s lack thereof, illustrates the second point. But Trump also illustrates the current value of novelty in politics (somewhat as Sarah Palin did in the 2008 election). I’m not sure which other candidates will be able to pick up on this, but if one is able to do so, he (or Carly) will likely be successful.

Again, I currently support no particular candidate for the Republican nomination for President, and I will eventually support and work for the nominee of the party. I just hope that we can nominate and elect someone who will do what is needed.

An article that may be useful in shedding light on Trump’s candidacy is attached:
Arnold Schwarzenegger was Donald Trump before Donald Trump