However, the 73-year-old Schwarzenegger warns that there are many similarities between populist movements in California, nearly two decades apart, and that elected officials ignored them at their risk.
“It’s pretty much the same atmosphere today as it was then,” said Schwarzenegger, the 38th governor of California, in an interview this week. And so it is with the dynamics. Something that takes it to a higher level, a kind of straw that breaks the camel’s back … like an explosion. “
In his very first interview about this year’s California recall, which is expected to be certified soon, The former Republican governor told POLITICO that the same frustration and longing of voters for effective leadership and non-partisan cooperation is still clearly felt in the most populous state in the country – and gives Newsom some advice on what might lie ahead.
Here are some excerpts from that conversation, edited for length and clarity:
Do the 2003 California recall that brought you to power and the current recall against Gavin Newsom have something in common?
It’s pretty much the same atmosphere today as it was back then. There was dissatisfaction at the highest level [in political leadership].
People work very hard. People make incredible sacrifices every day. It is very difficult to raise children, to have a family and to overcome this challenge to make ends meet. And you feel like, “Wait a minute, but Sacramento isn’t really doing everything they promised for us. We work hard – but they’re not. They fail us every day.” I see that as the 2003 similarities. It’s the same mood.
And so it is with the dynamics. Something that takes it to a higher level, a kind of straw that breaks the camel’s back … like an explosion.
In Newsom’s case, it was the French lingerie business. For us it was the power outages in 2003.
The Newsom team says it’s a “Republican recall” and an attempt to overthrow a Democratic governor – do you see it that way?
As I said, the Republican Party dies at the box office. This is the crazy thing about them when they say it is a “takeover” by the Republicans. Let me tell you that [California] Republicans couldn’t even let someone vote. It’s ridiculous – the Republican Party doesn’t exist. These are the signatures of the common people who signed up.
But isn’t the recall a battle between the two major political parties?
The political parties will make it right now. Republicans will say the Democrats are terrible, and then the Democrats will come in and say, “It’s a takeover,” 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.
The people are dissatisfied. [The recall is] the way people blow off some steam and then they decide: do we want to get through or not?
You say recalls are not about politics. But didn’t the Democrats work hard to attack you – as they do now to attack recall supporters?
The Democrats brought out Bill Clinton. You brought out my good friend John Kerry. they said [to voters]”That would be the worst thing you can do.” “Let’s look at it as cardiac surgeons. Would you like to have heart surgery done by someone who has never had heart surgery?”
I just said that [in Sacramento]The surgeons have operated for years and have killed every patient.
Are you concerned about the Democrats’ argument that there is a right element in this recall – people talking about extreme things like microchiped undocumented immigrants, etc.?
Well no But I mean, it’s exactly the same as what they said [about] For me it was the same dialogue. So there is no difference. You have to step back. What does someone have to say if they want to keep their job? He will paint the other side in a terrible way. It happens in political campaigns, but you can’t take it seriously because you do. In a UFC fight it’s the same: who is the one who can take the best punch and give the best punch?
In the 2003 recall, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante took the step of sitting on the ballot to stop you. Was it a real threat to have an elected official from the other party?
This is all nonsense. Nobody knew who Bustamante was then, and nobody knows who he is today. It was literally just me – to be able to connect with people and hold large rallies. They got bigger and bigger. I said [Californians]: Here is my vision. I know I can and I’ll work my butt off for you. And, as a Republican, I’m not going to look at it politically. I will only work with both parties, I will serve you, I will be a civil servant, not a politician. People bought in, they connected. And I connected with them.
What was the biggest difference to the success of the 2003 recall?
People were looking for an outsider. That doesn’t mean there is always some success – with Trump, underdogs aren’t always the best choices.
I’ve made it very clear to the people of California that I don’t see the Democrats as an enemy and the Republicans as an enemy. I said we have to work together to bring people together – and then we can achieve certain things. I think that was a refreshing thing.
Yes, fame helps – just like when people say, “When you have money, choice is yours to buy.” But there are many elections that we can point out in America that billionaires didn’t win, like for example [former eBay CEO and 2010 gubernatorial candidate] Meg Whitman. I think you also need to show that you have a personal interest in serving the people. The reality is, in my case, it worked to my advantage and I never viewed the recall as a political issue.
But this time around there isn’t a “Schwarzenegger-like” figure to collect voters, is there?
Remember that the first thing that people will vote for is, “Do you want the governor to be recalled?” – So this has nothing to do with a person. This is nonsense dialogue.
What would happen if George Clooney ran for governorship? What if Brad Pitt ran? What if Oprah Winfrey ran? We don’t know, so there will be an interesting answer to conduct such a survey.
California is one of 19 states where governors can be recalled. Is it too easy to accomplish here?
[In the last 100 years]We only had one call back. It’s very, very difficult. You can light the fire, you can go crazy, and you can collect the signatures, but can you actually reach the finish line? I think that is very difficult.
Is Gavin Newsom to blame for this recall because of his performance in the pandemic?
I’m very sensitive about one thing – and then we pretend it only happens in California. I was at my approval rating in the mid-60s when I was governor in 2007. Then, in 2008, during the recession, my polls dropped.
So today is the same. We have to be careful. The whole nation and the whole world are arguing: “Should we take the children to school or not? What is risky? “The virus is a world phenomenon. And people are just angry – angry that the kids are out of school, angry that we should follow science, and there is a whole crisis here and across the country.
Does Newsom deserve to be called back?
Newsom is doing something very smart, and that means he’s engaged now. People have already done that, even if there is no recall, because he has now come out of Sacramento. He travels across the state, can be seen everywhere, is committed to the vaccine and is committed to education. I see him on the news all the time now. And you know, he handles this situation really well. That’s a win.
Then what do you advise him?
I call [the recall] a valve. People need to find a way to let go of our anger. And that recall is a way to let their anger out. Now it’s up to him to say, “Now wait a minute, okay, maybe I was slow to drive in the beginning, but I promise you this is the kind of governor I’ll be.” And then he’ll go and show more action now.
There is progress that people have already seen. Can you really target the homeless? Can You Really Create Equality In Education? [On those issues, he must] Sit down and you have to work on it without listening to your particular interests and really represent people in the best way possible.
It’s not easy because there are many forces out there pulling one way or another – but it has to be done.
The only advice I have for him is that he is doing a good job now. That he has improved his connection to the people and that he should continue to be real – be himself and really only think about the people – and not about the unions, not the party, not any of them – just the people. And to solve the problems. Solve the problems.
Will you support this recall?
No, I don’t interfere with that at all. I’m trying to be the elderly statesman in this case, who understands the phenomenon of recall, who understands why people are dissatisfied, who understands what needs to be done and what not.
I can only tell you that in the past few months many people have come to me for advice. I’m not talking about who, but I can tell you a lot of people. And I can tell you too, I’ll never say what we talked about.