They’re both iconic figures in American culture who are known by their first names. California’s former governor is Arnold. The GOP presidential front-runner is The Donald. We Californians, who lived through Arnold’s two terms in the governor’s office, have watched The Donald’s presidential campaign unfold with a sense of deja vu.
Donald Trump starred in the TV show “Celebrity Apprentice.” Arnold Schwarzenegger will replace him. Both men can boast supersize personalities and bulging bank accounts. Both ran for a top office with no political experience whatsoever — which turned out to be a plus as they tapped into a tidal wave of voter resentment. Both are more pragmatic than ideological.
Schwarzenegger’s supporters thought he could not win a GOP primary — and he didn’t have to, because he ran and won in California’s free-for-all recall election of 2003. Trump’s front-runner status in the 2016 primary — also the beneficiary of a crowded field — likewise has confounded the political professional class.
Over the week, I talked to four former Schwarzenegger aides (only two of whom would say anything on the record) about what Trump and Schwarzenegger have in common, how they are different, and what Schwarzenegger’s tenure might tell us about a Trump presidency, should he win in November.
One former adviser, Adam Mendelsohn, who wanted nothing to do with a negative assessment of Schwarzenegger’s time in office, told me he sees “absolutely no similarity between the two” men. All appreciated that the biggest difference is that Trump is running for president — as a naturalized citizen, the Austrian Oak is not eligible to be president under the Constitution — and there should be a higher bar for the man who wants to have his hand on the nuclear button.
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