Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger broke his silence about the impending recall election against Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday, saying that it is not a GOP power grab, but rather a large number of disaffected people wanting Newsom out of office.
Schwarzenegger, who won the 2003 Governor recall election despite not having held political office before, noted many similarities between the 2003 election and this years election in an interview with Politico. While Newsom does have a higher approval rating than then-Governor Gray Davis had in 2003, with a recent poll showing Newsom at 45% approval over Davis’ 27% approval at around the same time after a recall was filed against them, Schwarzenegger noted that the dissatisfaction among Californian citizens is the same.
“It’s pretty much the same atmosphere today as it was then,” said Schwarzenegger on Wednesday. “There was dissatisfaction, to the highest level in political leadership.
“People are working very hard. People are making unbelievable sacrifices every day. It’s very tough to raise kids and to have a family, and to go through this challenge, working to make ends meet. And you feel like, “Wait a minute, but Sacramento doesn’t really do everything for us that they promised they’ll do. We are working hard — but they’re not. They’re failing us every day.” That’s what I see as the similarities from 2003. It’s the same vibe.”
“And it’s the same with the momentum. Something that sets it off to a higher level, kind of the straw that breaks the camel’s back; like an explosion. In Newsom’s case, it was the French Laundry thing. With us, it was the power outages in 2003.”
The former Governor also noted that, unlike what many top Democrat lawmakers have claimed, that the recall isn’t an attempt by the GOP in grabbing power. Instead, it’s average people coming out against Newsom, as evidenced by about 1/3rd of all recall petition signers identifying as either a Democrat or an Independent.
“The Republican party is, like I have said, dying at the box office,” continued Schwarzenegger. “This is the crazy thing here, when they say it’s a “power grab” of the Republicans. Let me tell you, the California Republicans couldn’t even get anyone elected. It’s ludicrous — the Republican Party doesn’t exist. These are the signatures of the ordinary folks that have signed on.”
“The political parties will make it right away about them. The Republicans are going to claim the Democrats are terrible, and then the Democrats are going to come in and they say, ”It’s a power grab,” which of course I heard a million times in 2003.”
“It had nothing to do then — and it has nothing to do today — with either party. People are dissatisfied. The recall is the people’s way of kind of letting off some steam, and then they decide: Do we want to follow through, or not follow through?”
The importance of being an outsider candidate
Schwarzenegger, while stressing the importance of the first of two questions in a recall election, the one that asks the voter if they actually want the Governor recalled, also explained that being an outsider was important in these kinds of elections.
Currently all three of the major Republican candidates in the recall election have had some sort of elected experience or major election run under their belt: Kevin Faulconer was Mayor of San Diego from 2014 to 2020 and had previously served on the San Diego City Council, John Cox ran for Governor in 2018, and Doug Ose was a Congressman from 1999 to 2005 and has since run for other major offices.
The former Governor also didn’t discount the idea of other billionaires running in the recall election, but noted that previous attempts by billionaires trying to become Governor of California have failed, specifically citing former eBay CEO Meg Whitman’s 2010 gubernatorial run.
“The people were looking for an outsider,” added Schwarzenegger. “That doesn’t mean always there’s a degree of success — with Trump, outsider is not always the best bet.”
“I made it very clear to the people of California that I don’t see the Democrats as the enemy, and I don’t see Republicans as the enemy. I said we must work together to bring the people together — and then we can accomplish certain things. So, this is what I think was a refreshing kind of a thing to hear.”
“Yes, stardom helps — as much as when people say, “If you have money you can buy the election.” But there’s many elections that we can point to in America that have happened where billionaires didn’t win, like Meg Whitman. I think that you have to also show that you are personally interested in serving the people. The reality is, in my case it worked to my advantage, and I never ever looked at the recall as a political issue.”
“Just remember that the people will vote first of all on, “Do they want to have the governor recalled?” — so that has nothing to do with any one individual. That’s nonsense dialogue.”
“What would happen if George Clooney would run for the governorship? What if Brad Pitt would run? If Oprah Winfrey would run? We don’t know, so there will be an interesting answer to do a poll like that.”
Schwarzenegger refuses to back, oppose Newsom in 2021
However, despite not casting Newsom in a favorable light, Schwarzenegger refused to back anyone in the recall one way or another, preferring to stay out of the impending election for at least the time being. The former Governor even said that he wants to be an “elder statesman” sort of figure during the 2021 recall election.
“No, I don’t get involved in that at all,” explained former Governor Schwarzenegger. “I try to be, in this case, the elder statesman, one that understands the phenomenon of a recall, that understands why people are dissatisfied, that understands what needs to be done and is not being done.”
“All I can tell you is that I’ve had many people come to me for advice over the period of these last few months. I don’t talk about who, but I can tell you, a lot of people. And I can tell you also — that I will never say what we talked about.”
Newsom has only recently fought back against the impending recall, starting his own political committee and launching speaking engagements both around the state and across the United States. In the last few weeks alone he has been on networks and shows ranging from CNN to The View and has even been lampooned on Saturday Night Live.
“Schwarzenegger is one of the few people who can really speak to what it is like to be involved with a recall election this much and is the only Governor alive that has been voted in by a recall,” former lobbyist Harry Schultz, who helped lobby during the 2003 Gray Davis recall, told the Globe. “I’m not saying that he is the best person to listen to on these matters. I mean, Democrats and Republicans alike both love him and hate him for a variety of different reasons.”
“But if he is noticing a lot of similarities to 2003 and is saying that the people are behind the recall and not Republicans, he needs to listen to that. It’s probably just theater and trying to discredit the recall by saying it’s a right-wing effort. But if Newsom is at least somewhat believing in this, Schwarzenegger pretty much gave Newsom the playbook in that Politico interview on how not to end up like Gray Davis, especially for things to look out for like outsider candidates.”
“With the recall now all but for sure happening, Newsom would be crazy not to pick up wisdom from those who went through a similar election 18 years ago.”