Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

The Once And Future Ex-Governor of California?

I don't often cite to Pat Buchanan because I don't often think he is right or even interesting - James M Buchanan is more my cup of tea. But Pat Buchanan's thoughts on the looming recall of California Governor Davis are something of an exception:

[N]o governor has ever suffered that indignity [of recall], though 31 attempts have been made.

Why could Gray Davis become the first?

Because, with an approval rating at 27 percent, a majority of voters are now telling pollsters they would like to toss him out. Moreover, Davis faces a budget crisis. He must close a looming $38 billion deficit, which will require new cuts in state spending and new tax increases on top of this year's cuts and tax hikes. Worse for Davis, he is believed to have deceived voters in 2002 as to the depth of the looming budget crisis.

But Buchanan still misses the most important point:

Mr. Davis is unusually vulnerable in a recall vote because his main campaign device is demonizing his opponent - and a recall vote does not itself depend on a opponent.

Yes, there will be a list of alternatives now expected to have something like 20 names on it. The vote leader on the list of alternatives will assume office if Mr. Davis is recalled. But it is not necessary for a voter to choose from that list. Rather, a voter need only believe that Mr. Davis should not be Governor and vote to recall him. If Mr. Davis mounts his normal negative campaign against the leader of the list, then the leader's support will decline. Fine. That alone won't save Mr. Davis from recall. In sum: In a recall vote, Mr. Davis will find himself fighting a hoard of phantoms.

The only way he can avoid recall is to increase the extent of his positive support - but that has never been his campaign strength and it will be particularly hard in the present fiscal mess, which is known by the voters to be largely of his own making.

And, for related reasons, Arnold Schwarzenegger is likely best positioned as an alternative in a recall vote while posing the smallest risk to Republican prospects. Mr. Buchanan points out that Mr. Schwarzenegger is pro-gay rights, pro-choice on abortion and pro-gun control, and called the impeachment of Bill Clinton a Republican disgrace - and that may cost him conservative support and turnout. I have also elsewhere pointed out the possibility of old drug and/or sex related accusations that may or may not lie in Mr. Schwarzenegger's past. But if any of that should become a fatal issue - or if anything else should weigh down the untried Mr. Schwarzenegger in the course of the campaign - the effect on Mr. Davis's fortunes will be minimized. And other Republicans alternatives on that list would have their chances enhanced.

A recall vote, if it occurs, is beginning to look like a perfect storm for Mr. Davis. No wonder he's trying so hard to keep it from happening.

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