Among the Donald Trump faithful, he can do no wrong.

The stalwarts did not mind the departure of Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, who were seen as Establishment Republicans, presumably committed, but insufficiently, to Draining the Swamp.  That swamp, candidate Trump implied, was full of the status quo, cronies from both major political parties who curried the favor of Wall Street globalists, especially Goldman Sachs, where  — candidate Trump reminded us, even the heretical wife of Sen. Ted Cruz worked.

One is reminded of that great sage of the conservative movement, M. Stanton Evans, who more than two decades ago criticized some reformists conservatives elected to Congress.  They came, Stan said, to drain the swamp but after they became incumbents, they mistook it for a hot tub. Steve Bannon was unlikely, Trump loyalists explained, to betray the distinction.  Ironically, Priebus and Bannon became unlikely allies, but Priebus’ successor as chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly, saw Bannon as a minister without portfolio.  And now that Bannon and nearly all his protégés have been purged from the White House, a few Trump loyalists privately grumble.  More than one in California lamented, “Trump will be another Schwarzenegger.”

Sean Hannity promoted Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor, as he later would promote Donald Trump for president. Disregard the past of each candidate, Hannity assured.  In fact, before his candidacy for governor, Schwarzenegger, who had married into the Kennedy family, created a successful ballot initiative for a new unfunded entitlement.  This should have been the hint that, despite Schwarzenegger’s declared admiration for the Nobel Prize winning free market economist Milton Friedman, non-politician Schwarzenegger was politically expedient.

Donald Trump had a long record of supporting the Democrats he now as a candidate would excoriate.  To some, the New York businessman seemed to extol American exceptionalism, but his passion was really American nationalism. Suddenly, on the social issues that animated some conservatives, he seemed born-again.  And on economics who cared if he previously invoked eminent domain for private gain? He would likely drive his agenda of economic growth with deregulation and tax cuts.

But there is a difference between Schwarzenegger and Trump.

Within two months of his election, Schwarzenegger, though popular and thus in a good negotiating position, inexplicably gave away the fiscal store to the Democrats.  Former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, and now Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel has said, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”  Elected in a recall election repudiating Democrat Gray Davis, Schwarzenegger faced a state in fiscal calamity, and people were open to major structural reform, but “The Terminator” caved. He would later recant his impetuous sellout, later mounting an extravagant but inept campaign for several flawed ballot measures, and then, with their predictable defeat, and the encouragement of his wife, Maria Shriver, he returned to his (or her) liberal roots.

In contrast, Trump stayed true to his commitment to nominate a conservative to the U.S. Supreme Court. And his other judicial nominations are promising.  His bold executive orders and executive branch appointments have favored a liberated free market.  And he has unleashed the military against ISIS.  Some disillusioned Trump originalists opposed the U.S. attack on a Syrian airbase and adding to U.S. forces in Afghanistan as repudiating “America First.” Meanwhile, the departure from the National Security Council of Bannon loyalists, especially Sebastian Gorka on Friday, has raised concerns among some embryonic Trump supporters in California that Trump sold out.

In retrospect, there is a reasonable argument that conservatives would have been better off without the recall of Gov. Gray Davis in 2003.  That’s because Davis would have been forced by circumstances to make some structural reforms. Regardless, the electorate would have blamed him for the state’s economic problems, and a more conservative governor would have been elected in the regular election in 2006.  In contrast, Schwarzenegger ruined the Republican brand and presided over a decline in the Republican Party. How could Republicans possibly be worse off in California than with Democrats occupying both U.S. senate seats, 39 of the state’s 53 congressional districts, all statewide constitutional offices, and a supermajority in the state senate and state assembly? . Schwarzenegger’s legacy is the affection of the ever-thinner Los Angeles Times.

But there is no serious argument (yet) in California among Trump’s conservative supporters, however disenchanted, that conservatives would have been better off without the election of Donald Trump in 2016.  Perhaps that’s because many California Republicans feel all is lost in the Golden State, so go for broke nationally with Trump.  Therefore, for them, Trump’s major defeat here last November, and his very low standing in the state are irrelevant; they believe the influence of the state’s government unions and the state’s demographics are stacked against them.

For conservatives nationally and in California, the ascendancy of Hillary Clinton would have assured the completion of the Obama revolution to transform America, and her Supreme Court would make a mockery of the U.S. Constitution.  Whatever Trump’s flaws, that is – he is an imperfect, volatile messenger with an increasingly scrambled message, there is, for now, the uneasy consensus among conservatives, even those in California burned by Schwarzenegger, that Trump still offers one last chance for America.


Arnold Steinberg’s new book, WHIPLASH! From JFK to Donald Trump, A Political Odyssey is forthcoming (September 2017).