Arnold Schwarzenegger’s entry into the 2018 Senate race “would give Arnold the stage to jam Trump for the next 16 months,’’ according to one veteran GOP strategist who spoke on condition of anonymity. | Getty
SAN FRANCISCO — Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — the “Terminator” action hero who made “I’ll be back” one of filmdom’s most iconic phrases — may be mulling a political comeback, according to several GOP political insiders in California.
The prospect of Schwarzenegger’s return to elected politics in a 2018 U.S. Senate run — possibly as an independent — is generating increasing buzz in state Republican circles, fueled by the former governor’s seeming ability to get under the skin of President Donald Trump on social media.
The president’s caustic tweets about Schwarzenegger, the recent host of “Celebrity Apprentice,” and their running feud has sparked talk that the intensely competitive Schwarzenegger — a seven-time Mr. Olympia world bodybuilding champ — may be interested in more than merely a verbal posedown with Trump.
His entry into the 2018 Senate race — when Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein would be 85 years old and up for reelection — “would give Arnold the stage to jam Trump for the next 16 months,’’ according to one veteran GOP strategist who spoke on condition of anonymity.
It would also enable Schwarzenegger to draw a contrast with the president on key issues, including climate change, political reform and even immigration.
Schwarzenegger spokesman Daniel Ketchell did not rule out a possible Senate run when asked to respond to the speculation.
“Right now Gov. Schwarzenegger’s focus is on using his platform to bring some sensibility and coherency to Washington by fighting for redistricting reform, like we did in California,’’ Ketchell told POLITICO via email Thursday. “We are keeping all of our options open as far as how we can accomplish that.”
Schwarzenegger, who as governor pursued political reforms including the “top two” primary system and a redistricting commission, has recently launched a major drive to end gerrymandering, a tradition he argues has benefited only partisan politics and gridlock — not the voters.
On Facebook,Schwarzenegger has taken both parties to task on the issue, warning that “Republicans and Democrats are incredibly skilled at screwing over the voters — and keeping them in the dark about their trickery.”
The attacks on both major parties is leading some to suggest Schwarzenegger, a lifelong Republican, may be eyeing a future role as an independent candidate.
Longtime California politics watchers say a Schwarzenegger return to the political stage would be riveting — and is entirely plausible.
As a candidate, “he would become an instant player,’’ not only on political reform but also on his signature issue of “cap and trade and climate change,’’ said political analyst David McCuan of Sonoma State University. “[Schwarzenegger is] someone who could play a huge role if Republicans wanted any hope of having relevance in California.’’
Republicans currently lag Democrats by nearly 20 percentage points in voter registration in the state, having lost ground since Schwarzenegger held office from 2003 to 2011.
McCuan notes that, more than a decade before Trump’s presidential run, it was Schwarzenegger’s shocking 2003 recall victory in California — as a political outsider who issued a call to “Sweep Sacramento Clean’’ — that served as a template for political revolution.
“He was going to “Drain the Swamp” before Trump even had that language,’’ McCuan said.
But Schwarzenegger supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the Republican presidential primary and refused to vote for Trump in the general election. Trump returned the favor in January by mocking Schwarzenegger after the new “Apprentice” show debuted in early January, tweeting that it “got swamped” in the ratings.
The two have continued their running feud since then, with Schwarzenegger criticizing Trump for bypassing former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado for agriculture secretary and knocking Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, for leaving open the possibility that the administration could undermine California’s vehicle emission standards.
Schwarzenegger also ripped the president’s initial executive order barring citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, calling aspects of its implementation “crazy.”
Last weekend, it was Trump’s turn to respond. In the same tweetstorm in which he accused former President Barack Obama of tapping his phones, Trump took a shot at Schwarzenegger.
“Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t voluntarily leaving the Apprentice, he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me. Sad end to great show,” the president tweeted.
Bill Whalen, who served as speechwriter and strategist for former Gov. Pete Wilson, described a political climate in which Trump and Schwarzenegger would both disrupt and “feed off each other.”
For the president, he noted, tweeting about Schwarzenegger usually sends the media off on a distracted goose chase that draws attention away from more serious inquiries like Russia connections. For Schwarzenegger, the president’s attention “gives him relevance.”
But Whalen noted that a Schwarzenegger Senate run would have its own hurdles. “First, he’d have to get past Dianne Feinstein,’’ he said, noting that the challenges would be greater for an independent candidate under the top-two primary system that Schwarzenegger himself backed.
Veteran GOP political consultant Luis Alvarado, founder of California-based Luis Alvarado Public Affairs Consulting — and a strong #NeverTrump Republican voice leading up to the election — says the timing might be right for a Schwarzenegger political move.
“In politics after Donald Trump, nothing is crazy any longer. We’re in the third dimension here,’’ he said. “Arnold Schwarzenegger, who actually has more political experience than Trump, would certainly seem to fit a mold to what some of the electorate would find attractive.”
And the so-called Governator’s return to politics would be seen by many Republicans as “almost like a silver bullet” to counter the president, Alvarado said.
“Donald Trump has had the ability to manipulate all the news and cameras to him, and Arnold Schwarzenegger would be like kryptonite, or an anti-matter device, that would somehow restore balance in this universe of madness.”
By CARLA MARINUCCI.