With the governorship up for grabs in 2010 and a wildly unpopular incumbent in office, Democrats in California have substantial reason for rejoicing and Republicans are stuck with explaining how it wasn't actually their fault that said unpopular leader got into office.
Matters were complicated by the fact that until recently, the menace of having Schwarzenegger as a candidate for senator (or, God forbid, governor) hung like a pall over the GOP's 2010 strategy, which in turn made running from the former Governator even more difficult.
Not anymore. The Los Angeles Times reports that Governor Schwarzenegger has officially taken himself out of the running for anything, claiming "When I say I'm not running for anything, that's exactly what I mean . . . until you change the Constitution."
Translation: Until I can run for president.
So farewell Arnold. If nothing else, your critics will forever mourn the countless Predator, Terminator and Total Recall jokes they could have made.
But those critics, at least on the Right, are now hastily making their opposition as loud as possible. Indeed, Schwarzenegger's removal of himself from California politics has now produced a veritable GOP feeding frenzy. Last week's Los Angeles Times reports that "By criticizing his painstakingly crafted budget, actively opposing several of his ballot measures and, more subtly, jabbing at his work habits and ego, [GOP Gubernatorial Candidates] Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner are striving to distance themselves from the unpopular Schwarzenegger and tap widespread GOP anger over the incumbent's broken pledge not to raise taxes."
This is a difficult sell at the best of times, but there may be reasons for cautious optimism among Republican voters. To begin, nobody can accuse the current GOP legislative leadership of selling out to Schwarzenegger. As far back as January, GOP legislative leader Mike Villines made it clear that his party would not support the massive expansion of taxes Schwarzenegger's proposed budget included, and arguably made more noise about stopping the budget than the Democrats, who weren't even in the same party as the governor. The passage of the budget was stalled for ages in Sacramento as the GOP mercilessly held the Democrats up and forced concession after concession, finally ending with the defection of Democrat-in-waiting Abel Maldonado.
Even Rush Limbaugh threw in an "Attaboy" to the legislative Republicans, saying "I wanted to take some time here to applaud them. It's not easy being a Republican in California. It's especially not easy being a Republican in the legislature out there, and they're holding fast." And all this was against a budget drafted by a governor from their own party. Needless to say, the GOP is hardly stuck in the same place as they were with...that other unpopular political leader.
Still, the GOP will have a hard time convincing voters of its good intentions come 2010, especially considering their unpleasant (and undeserved) reputation as the "party of No," which Democrats have been trying gleefully to affix at the national level. Whitman and Poizner will need alternative solutions, some of which may be politically inconvenient, but necessary. California's Gubernatorial race will constitute a repudiation of Schwarzenegger either way, but for the GOP's sake, let's hope it's a repudiation of how far Schwarzenegger went in the wrong direction, rather than a flooring of the gas pedal in the ride down the Road to Serfdom.