The Riggs Report: Defining Schwarzenegger and Trump
How similar are ex-governor and would-be president?
It seemed especially appropriate last week when NBC announced that Arnold Schwarzenegger would be replacing Donald Trump as host of “Celebrity Apprentice.”
It’ll give Arnold the chance to customize one of his famous film tag lines. “You’re terminated!” or “You won’t be back!” come to mind, among others.
The change also makes perfect economic and marketing sense. Schwarzenegger made it very clear, in a farewell interview I conducted with him in his smoking tent in the final weeks of his governorship, that he had every intention of staying actively involved in the entertainment industry.
Schwarzenegger’s films since he left the governorship in 2011 haven’t exactly been burning up the box office. So leveraging his celebrity on the small screen sounds like a logical move. Also logical is the decision to replace one political showman with another. The comparison isn’t exact, but the similarities between Trump and Schwarzenegger are numerous. Both are talented entertainers with a well-honed sense for theatrics.
Both like to create a spectacle and engage in bravado and bluster. I haven’t seen Trump use Hollywood-style props the way Arnold did. Schwarzenegger used a broom to symbolize sweeping out special interests, smashed a car to represent his opposition to the car tax, and infamously used a mock oversize faucet flowing red ink to illustrate the state’s budget woes.
But Arnold, like Trump, liked to use colorful and sometimes inflammatory language to insult and mock his opponents.
Arnold’s targets, both at the Capitol and on the campaign trail, were labor unions and Democratic legislators, who he once labeled as “girly men”.
There is a big difference though. While Arnold attacked groups, Trump’s name-calling is more personal , individual, and mean-spirited; such as the language he used recently to disparage Carly Fiorina and Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.
Both men, as candidates, were able to gain quick traction by tapping into a deep well of voter dissatisfaction and even contempt toward the political establishment. Arnold’s rise had its roots in the unique nature of the Gray Davis recall in 2003, and voter distress over an energy and budget crisis. But it was a very compressed timetable of just a few months with no primary election.
It’s highly unlikely Arnold would’ve survived a conventional Republican primary, given his moderate social views. By contrast, Trump is part of the long vetting process that is part of the buildup to the primary elections next year.
Voter opinions will continue to evolve, as we’re already seeing with Trump’s 8-point drop in support in the latest CNN poll.
One other difference. Schwarzenegger told me he later regretted his use of insulting language and realized it was not productive to the political process. Trump? He’s got no reason to change his in-your-face ways. Maybe he can’t.