Tuesday, August 12, 2003
The entire California political establishment had figured that Bob Mulholland had scared Arnold off with a blizzard of threats to expose Arnold's "past" to the state. Some figured that Schwarzenegger's fan dance during June and July had been a tease to get people to file into theaters to see his latest cinematic presentation: Terminator 3: etc., etc.. Most observers believed that Maria Shriver, his wife, would put her foot down and keep Arnold down on the farm. They were wrong, as we now know.
What Schwarzenegger did was masterful in its execution. His deception was aimed at Senator Diane Feinstein, the only statewide Democrat who was considered a stateswoman by members of both parties. To a lesser extent, Arnold held back from announcing until the last moment to keep Davis' people frozen in place. Arnold had let slip leaks to the press, specifically to Dan Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee (whose column is devoured by political people in the state capitol). These leaks were for consumption by Davis people, Feinstein's people, and the rest of the Usual Suspects.
Schwarzenegger's breakout depended on deception and a strike at the moment of maximum distraction. I will tell you, by the time Arnold went on Leno last week, most of the nation had concluded that Arnold Schwarzenegger had decided to listen to his wife and stay home for the fall. One of the leaks that came out concerned Arnold's good friend, Richard Riordan. Apparently, Arnold had given the former mayor fifty grand towards a Riordan Campaign. It was another, small deception that convinced Riordan that Arnold was out.
Naturally, some of Riordan's people probably talked to the Press or to Davis' people. That's how leaks are intended to work. It worked for Arnold. Up to the last minute, the entire CalDem apparatus stood against the Recall. When he announced, the dam broke.
I suspect that only Maria Shriver knew of his true intentions. Time Magazine reported that Arnold kept the deception up until the last moment, telling Leno that he intended to "bow out".
Senator Feinstein had pulled out the afternoon of Arnold's announcement. She did not want to run. Feinstein was the doyenne of California politics, and a run for governor under these conditions would have been beneath her. She bailed once she was certain that Arnold was out. Arnold had other ideas.
With Feinstein gone, all Arnold had to do was to continue to give the impression during the day that he intended to bow out on Leno. Davis must have felt that he had scared Arnold off. What Davis did not know was that he had fallen for one of the great head fakes of our time.
Schwarzenegger understood that once he was in the race, the media would come to him. He could set the table. His events would be covered by the cameras in ways that Cruz Bustamante or Tom McClintock could only dream of. He would grab hold of the strategic initiative, and hold it. That's why he did what he did: surprise was essential, and deception was a necessary element of surprise.
Arnold is working right now because a majority of the voting public suspects that something is rotten in the State of Denmark. In this regard, specific position papers are less important than how Arnie carries himself and argues for his general principle:
1. California is broke.
2. Gray Davis is at fault.
3. Ahnuld will fix things.
As long as Arnold issues reasonably thought-out position papers, responds with alacrity to attacks, and continues to campaign as "Arnold", the other Republicans will begin to drop away and the moderates will come his way.
This election is not a lead pipe cinch. Arnold could come down with a case of Taurets and start screaming the "N-word" in a roomful of black single mothers and their children. Live. On national television. But he won't. He'll probably remain focused and campaign on a few basic issues. If he keeps the campaign concentrated on a few large, if basic issues that Californians can understand and accept, I think he wins.