Friday I asked California conservatives to let me know whether Arnold Schwarzenegger’s news conference last Wednesday made them more or less inclined to support Der Arnold. I got dozens of emails, all thoughtful and articulate-I suppose after contributing to this happy Corner for several weeks now I should have expected that–and I just spent an absorbing hour wading through them. The findings? One was predictable, the other startling.
In the you-should-have-known department, my correspondents support Arnold by an overwhelming three-to-one.
The surprise? The reluctance with which most of them do so. Arnold has his full-throated cheering section, of course:
Arnold is showing the resolve, leadership, determination and right attitude on business & taxation needed to address the gigantic stinking mess that the Democrats have made of our state….
Yet one Corner reader after supports Arnold only because no other Republican appeared to have any chance of winning. Samples:
I am a “strategic” supporter of Arnold. Tom McClintock is much closer to my politics, and knows the state government far better than Arnold. But Tom, bless his soul, is the very visual embodiment of the sort of Republican who scares the pants off of a large swath of California’s lotus-eating populace. The white shirts with the pinched collars…and the narrowly-set eyes are not fatal flaws in my book. But I don’t get to elect the next governor by myself, or with my friends. A…large segment of the California electorate will never vote for a Republican who looks like a scold….
I would prefer to vote for Tom McClintock, who is the conservative’s dream….[But at] this point, I could vote for Arnold.
[I'm] pro [Arnold], tentatively. With all the mixed messages coming out of his camp (from Buffett and spokesman Sean Walsh), I can’t help but remain weary of Arnold’s true intentions. If he TRULY believes we are overtaxed and is absolutely committed to lowering (or at least not raising) taxes, why do his senior-most advisers keep mentioning potential tax hikes? I’m afraid that, after the review of the State’s books by the outside accountants he proposes, he will then come to the conclusion that higher taxes of some sort are in fact necessary. That being said, I think he stands an infinitely greater chance of getting elected than the Republican candidates who have committed to lowering/not raising taxes without equivocation.
Yes on Arnold but in fear and trembling; it feels more and more like another hold-your-nose-and-vote situation.
California may have become a much more liberal and Democratic state since Ronald Reagan occupied the governor’s mansion, but conservatives remain a critical constituency for any Republican gubernatorial candidate all the same, and although he has dominated the media for two weeks now Arnold’s support among this base–among us–remains tenuous. If McClintock can only convince conservatives that he has a chance of winning, support for Arnold could evaporate.
Which brings me back to the WFB column that K-Lo posted on The Corner Friday. Remember WFB’s conclusion?
A proposal: All three Republican candidates who trail the leader in the polls two weeks before October 7 should agree to withdraw, in favor of the leader.
I called this proposal the Buckley Pledge, posting a plea last week for all four major Republican candidates-Schwarzenegger, Simon, McClintock, and Ueberroth-to hold press conferences, place their hands on their bibles, and bind themselves to WFB’s proposal. I suppose my posting was silly-no serious politician will ever admit in public that he might lose (with the exception, of course, of Bill Simon, who over the weekend pulled out of the race altogether). But WFB’s proposal gets at something important. The peculiar rules of this recall election have short-circuited the partisan process, making it impossible for the GOP to hold a primary election or a nominating convention. In the coming few weeks, however, Arnold and McClintock will be able to submit themselves to the test of the political marketplace all the same, making their positions known by putting up websites, buying advertising, holding news conferences, and giving speeches across the state–and now that Simon is gone and Ueberroth has announced that he intends to campaign as an Independent, not a Republican, the race for conservative support does indeed come down to Arnold and McClintock.
As the richest, best-known, and most media-savvy candidate, Arnold starts this race as the favorite. But as my correspondents make clear, he still has a lot of persuading to do. And in the meantime, McClintock can hone his message, preparing to step forward if Arnold stumbles-and forcing Arnold to take the conservative base seriously in any case.
A couple of weeks before October 7, either Arnold or McClintock should indeed accede to political reality, dropping out just as WFB proposed. But for now? McClintock should ignore the calls to withdraw–and Arnold should tell his supporters to stop issuing them. Arnold, McClintock, WFB, Rush Limbaugh, those of us in the Corner, and every Californian with a monitor and a keyboard–let’s all have at it.