Total Recall: Donald Trump Clones Schwarzenegger Campaign
September 4, 2015
By Jon Fleischman
A week ago, Donald Trump stood before a massive crowd of some 30,000 people at a rally held in Mobile, Alabama.
There he gave a rousing speech about taking on the political establishment, appealing to the frustration of those present that the political class in Washington, D.C., has failed them.
When the rally ended, the loudspeakers in Ladd-Pebbles Stadium blared out “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister, to a standing ovation.
Being from California, I watched this rally through the extensive coverage that it received on cable news. And it struck me that once upon a time, back in October of 2003, I too had been at a similar rally, where someone was campaigning to be an elected chief executive, and where “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was the song of the day. In fact, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister was on hand in Sacramento, singing to a massive crowd of activists on the eve of the now-infamous recall election that brought Arnold Schwarzenegger to power as Governor of California.
The similarities to the Schwarzenegger campaign then, and the Trump campaign today, are pretty striking.
For one thing, both campaigns focused on taking on the “political establishment” in the Capitol.
Arnold’s favorite rally prop was a broom that he would hold up high, announcing forcefully (as only the Terminator could), “We are going to sweep out the special interests!”; “We are going to blow up the boxes!”; and his favorite rallying call, “We are going to take the government back!”
The Capitol atmosphere at the time was poisonous, with incumbent Democrat Governor Gray Davis beset by various scandals that had his popularity in the state at a record low.
Schwarzenegger, an actor by profession, mastered the populist rhetoric that would lead to his election.
Fast-forward nearly a dozen years later, and all around the country a growing faction of Republican voters is completely fed up and apparently not going to “take it” any more. And can you blame them?
The rhetoric, year after year on the campaign trail, is rock solid. But the execution inside the Beltway, once the politicians are elected and re-elected, falls pathetically short.
Enter into this environment another showman: Donald Trump.
Trump’s rhetoric could have been taken straight from Schwarzenegger’s. At the Alabama rally, Trump had this to say about Republican leadership:
“We have dummies. We have dummies. We have people that don’t have a clue and I don’t know. You know, some people say they’re bad people. Well, I don’t think they’re bad people. I think they’re incompetent people. A lot of people think they’re bad. I don’t think they’re bad. I think they’re incompetent.”
Trump went on to say, “We have politicians that don’t have a clue, they’re all talk, no action, what’s happening to this country is disgraceful.”
I can tell you as a conservative that when Schwarzenegger fired up his “rage against the machine” rhetoric, it caught fire with me. I had a number of friends warn me that beyond the words, there was no track record. And conservative stalwart Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), now a member of Congress, was running in the recall election as well. But the moment (or was it Arnold’s broom?) swept me up-and I was all in, supporting him and working towards his election.
Of course, looking back now-well, the special interests didn’t get swept up. They ended up thriving under Schwarzenegger, and continue to do so now. And the boxes slated to be blown up? They are still there.
Hallmarks of Schwarzenegger’s legacy include signing the largest tax increase in the history of California up to that point, and his landmark AB 32 legislation targeting greenhouse gas emissions, which has turned into a costly mess for all Californians.
So when I see “The Donald” trying to tug on those same emotions that I still have, and recycling the same songs to fire me up, I actually have a sense of clarity that eluded me those many years ago.
Trump’s positions on issues are all over the map-in fact, on many key issues of the day, at one time or another, he was on both sides.
The anger and frustration that both Schwarzenegger and now Trump-both wickedly smart people-have locked onto is real.
And the question is whether GOP primary voters, especially in the early states, will be smart enough to support genuine conservatives, or not. (I am reminded that I need to apologize to Congressman McClintock once again.)
I will tell you this: it was fascinating and entertaining to watch seven years of Arnold the Governator do his thing. I think the dynamics make it a tougher road for Trump-but should he become president, it will be one hell of a reality show.
But when it is over, we will know we were used.