Is the Party Establishment Right About the Recall?

I’ve been truly flabbergasted over the last several weeks as I’ve watched the Republican Party establishment back Arnold Schwarzenegger in the California recall — not, necessarily, because they shouldn’t, but because they have been willing to do it so vigorously despite everything they know about him. Almost immediately upon his announcement on the “Tonight Show” that he would be a candidate to replace Gray Davis, GOP leaders began lining up behind him.

Though there is a candidate in the race who is known to be a solid conservative — State Sen. Tom McClintock — Arnold was (and, still is) the seemingly logical pick, based, apparently, on his notoriety and the “fact” that a conservative cannot win in California.

GOP leaders nationwide have been calling on McClintock to get out of the race precisely because they feel that McClintock’s conservatism and lesser-known name will cause him to get just enough votes to keep Arnold from winning but not enough to beat Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.

But are these reasons which Arnold supporters tout actually true?

First, there is the name recognition issue. Certainly Schwarzenegger has a leg up on all the other candidates based merely on his celebrity status. However, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll released earlier this week shows that McClintock is not exactly unknown, nor is he as negatively viewed as either Schwarzenegger or Bustamante. Consider the following results of a poll of probable voters:

Arnold Schwarzenegger

  • Favorable: 63
  • Unfavorable: 30
  • Never Heard Of: 0
  • No Opinion: 7
  • Tom McClintock

  • Favorable: 62
  • Unfavorable: 20
  • Never Heard Of: 4
  • No Opinion: 14
  • Cruz Bustamante

  • Favorable: 37
  • Unfavorable: 54
  • Never Heard Of: 3
  • No Opinion: 6
  • The second issue is the whole notion that McClintock cannot beat Bustamante because California will not elect a conservative. So, since only the Terminator can beat Bustamante, the Arnold camp is calling on McClintock to back out in order to avoid splitting the vote. But looking at the following results from the same USA Today Poll of probable voters, it appears that McClintock could make a very similar argument back to Schwarzenegger.

    If the choice were between Cruz Bustamante, the Democrat and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican, who would you be more likely to vote for: Cruz Bustamante or Arnold Schwarzenegger?

  • Bustamante: 36
  • Schwarzenegger: 58
  • If the choice were between Cruz Bustamante, the Democrat and Tom McClintock, the Republican, who would you be more likely to vote for: Cruz Bustamante or Tom McClintock?

  • Bustamante: 37
  • McClintock: 56
  • My question now is not really whether Arnold should be supported by the GOP. Rather, I wonder if the GOP jumped behind Schwarzenegger too quickly and now are following as a result of blind ambition.

    I also wonder why the Republican establishment is essentially ignoring these poll results. Is it because they have realized that maybe they were wrong about McClintock’s chances, and, more importantly, about the possibilities of conservatism succeeding in a California election?