- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 11, 2003

Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger’s smashing California victory does not presage a Republican shift to the left, even though he ran as a social liberal, Republicans say.

“The idea that there will be a huge tug to the left is the liberals’ fantasy and the pessimistic fear of some on the right,” said Republican strategist Grover Norquist.

Abandoning opposition to abortion, homosexual “marriage” and gun control is not in the cards for the national party, conservative leaders say, because the Republican Party must offer strong incentives for millions of normally apolitical religious conservatives to turn out in presidential and congressional elections.

“No less than [White House chief strategist] Karl Rove himself has said the 2000 presidential election was so close because some 4 million religious conservatives failed to vote,” said Free Congress Foundation Chairman Paul M. Weyrich. “Most likely, this was the product of the last-minute smear campaign against President Bush regarding an old drinking charge.

“But some of it was also related to a false impression in evangelical circles that Bush [who ran as a social conservative] would [govern like] a liberal on social issues,” Mr. Weyrich said. “Some of these voters returned to the Republican fold to give the GOP its surprising upset victory in 2002.”

“If these voters feel that the party is moving to the left on social issues, they will stay at home and perhaps take more voters with them because they are not Republican Party people as such,” Mr. Weyrich said.

Republican pollster Ed Goeas said the “fact that Arnold was a moderate candidate on social issues had nothing to do with his victory. The two problems that voters saw as existing in California on Tuesday were the economy-slash-budget and Gray Davis.”

By Wednesday, the Davis problem was gone, and only the budget/economic problem remained. “That is what Schwarzenegger’s governorship is going to focus on,” Mr. Goeas said.

But at least one conservative Republican predicts the Schwarzenegger win will prove pivotal.

“I think, five years from now, you’re going to look back and you’re going to see this election as a turning point where the Republican Party was taken over by Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani — an independent, more centrist Republican Party, that I may not agree with 100 percent,” said former Rep. Joe Scarborough, Florida Republican.

Mr. Schwarzenegger “has his own power base, [and] the Republican Party needs him more than he needs the Republican Party,” Mr. Scarborough, an MSNBC talk host, said in a television interview.

Mr. Scarborough predicted that “over the next five, 10 years,” such independent, centrist Republicans are “going to dominate the party, and it’s not going to be the party of George Bush, of Dick Cheney or of Pat Robertson much longer.”

But Republican officials do not see the party changing because of the California election results.

“The Republican Party is the same party today as it was [Tuesday] before the election in California was called,” said Christine Iverson, communications director for the Republican National Committee.

Mr. Weyrich said, “Arnold campaigned only on economic issues. He never mentioned social issues unless a question was asked of him. So this election cannot be viewed as a repudiation of social conservatism.”

The California situation was so unusual that most Republican analysts doubt Mr. Schwarzenegger could win in a state such as New York or Florida. “Indeed, it’s not clear if he could have won a regular general election [in California],” Mr. Weyrich added.

Nor do most party and conservative leaders think that the action movie star’s election signals the emerging dominance of centrist celebrities as candidates in the Republican Party.

“What celebrities are they talking about — Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson?” Mr. Norquist asked. “Gibson is a crazed right-winger toeing the Catholic social conservative line. If he becomes the new face of Republican moderation, [conservative activist] Paul Weyrich is going to be very happy.”

“Davis didn’t lose because of his position on social issues, and Schwarzenegger didn’t win because of his positions on abortion, gay ‘marriage’ or gun control,” Mr. Norquist said. Mr. Schwarzenegger “won because he promised to put a constitutional tax-limitation amendment on the ballot similar to Colorado’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights.”

A spokesman for President Bush’s re-election campaign committee said the committee is not ready to comment on the effect of the Schwarzenegger victory, but statements of congratulations to Mr. Schwarzenegger coming out of the White House carefully avoided any of the social issues on which the actor and the president disagree.

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