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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.


A Marriage of Convenience
Conservatives should accept Schwarzenegger to help rejuvenate state GOP   
[Carol Platt Liebau] 8/25/03   

[Editor's note: This editorial was also published yesterday in the Orange County Register Sunday Commentary section.] John Kenneth Galbraith once observed that politics consists of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable. Nothing could better summarize the reaction of many of California’s conservatives to the prospect of a liberal Republican like Arnold Schwarzenegger winning the recall election.

From a conservative’s perspective, the good news about Arnold’s candidacy is that it puts the last nail in the coffin of the Gray Davis governorship. The bad news is that it dooms the candidacy of conservative state Sen. Tom McClintock, as well. He lacks Schwarzenegger’s nearly universal name identification, mountains of money and white-hot charisma. And with the recall less than two months off, there’s no time to develop them.

So conservative Republicans are at a crossroads. It may be tempting for them to stay with McClintock – their true love – but they need to swing their support to Schwarzenegger and commit themselves to a political marriage of convenience.

There’s no doubt that there’s much for conservative Republicans to dislike in Arnold’s positions. He is presumably a "social moderate" – and he’s certainly not the second coming of Ronald Reagan. But even so, the California Republican Party needs Arnold, badly.

More than anything, Republicans simply need a winner. Politics is, in part, perception. Right now, Republicans are vastly outnumbered in the Legislature, and their views have been caricatured so consistently that, to many Californians, they seem to be little more than a bunch of greedy and out-of-touch Philistines.

In fact, the "Republican" brand name in California has become so tarnished that Republicans need a candidate who transcends party labels just to reintroduce apolitical California voters to the concept of supporting the state’s GOP. Only this "second look" from voters can enable the Republican Party and its supporters to begin building the following that will allow a conservative (like Tom McClintock!) to govern successfully in the future.

But Arnold needs the conservative Republicans just about as much as they need him. Conservatives are, in many ways, the California Republican Party’s backbone. They work with a force disproportionate to their numbers. They are the people who give up their weekends to attend state party conventions and spend their free time walking precincts for a favored candidate. Although Schwarzenegger could win without them, it would be vastly to his advantage to gain their support before the election – not only to help him claim a mandate, but also to ensure the Republican support in Sacramento that will allow him to be effective in curbing the excesses of the Democratic-controlled state Legislature. After all, the Democrats have no incentive to help him achieve anything – it would only prove how colossally incompetent their own leadership has been.

So Arnold is going to need to rely on both conservative and moderate Republicans to have any hope of leaving a legacy worth having. And the conservatives will remember how they are treated by Arnold now. He must therefore find a way to woo the state’s conservatives – people of firm and longstanding principle, who might well wonder why they should vote for a candidate who shares few of their views, just for the meager satisfaction of having a titular Republican in the statehouse.

With two simple steps, Schwarzenegger could significantly increase his support on the right: first, by pledging that if he is elected governor, he will actively support and campaign hard for Republican Party candidates throughout the state; and second, by offering McClintock a visible, important post in any Schwarzenegger administration.

Promising political reciprocity would provide conservative party activists with a real incentive to help Arnold win. Conservatives would understand that, in exchange for their support, Schwarzenegger is willing to use the power and prestige of the governorship to offer them the opportunity to make their case to California’s voters. And by offering McClintock an important administration post, Schwarzenegger would allay conservative fears that, as governor, he will surround himself exclusively with "white wine and brie" advisors, who find it infinitely easier to make common cause with liberals than to shock elite opinion by actually acknowledging the validity of some conservative views. With both tactics, Arnold would be making it clear that – just as he expects tolerance for his own socially liberal views from all segments of his party – he is willing to extend that same tolerance to Republican conservatives.

It is hard to ask conservatives – largely ignored, maligned or belittled in California political life – to forgo the chance of putting one of their own in the governor’s mansion. But the recall of Gray Davis offers California Republicans their best opportunity, perhaps for years to come, to convince the voters that they are ready and able to govern. Conservative Republicans are at a turning point – either they can offer Arnold their help in exchange for his and begin the long climb back to power, or they can attack him and become so marginalized that they ultimately fade into complete irrelevance.

In making their decision, even the most principled conservatives need to understand that almost any Republican is better than almost any Democrat. For his part, Schwarzenegger must convince them that his election will offer them and the issues they care about enhanced credibility in the long run. With mutual respect and a clear understanding on both sides of the compromises involved, a marriage of convenience between Arnold and the California Republicans could, in time, become a love match.

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.


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