Man Without Qualities

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Davis Descending XVIII: Disaster And Stars In Their Eyes

He doesn't warrant even a mention in the clueless, celebrity-drunk Los Angeles Times headline (Schwarzenegger In, Feinstein Out), but the decision of Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante to enter the recall race is a disaster for Governor Davis, making his removal from office very likely. That's the most important news. The disaster is not primarilly that Bustamante will split the Democratic vote - it is unlikely that he will have much money to campaign effectively, as the public employee unions support of the Governor and Mr. Bustamante's own past fund-raising impotence make apparent. No. The major part of the disaster is that it will defang Governor Davis' major successful campaign device: demonizing his opponents. As I noted early:

But what should be even more troubling for Mr. Davis is the increasing likelihood of other Democrats putting their names up to become governor if he is indeed turned out. If that were to happen, Mr. Davis' job of demonizing his opponent would become much trickier. For example, if Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante were to put his name up as an alternative, Mr. Davis would find himself running against his own second-in-command. Yet such a state of affairs seems increasingly likely, ...

That's also why the possible entry of Democratic Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi would be disaster for Mr. Davis - but on a much smaller scale.

What about Arnold Schwarzenegger? Of course it's bad for Governor Davis that a formidable Republican has entered the race. But if Mr. Schwarzenegger hadn't done it, his good friend and equally formidable - if less flashy - Republican Richard Riordan would have. Mr. Schwarzenegger's decision to enter - which displaces Mr. Riordan - will make it easier for Mr. Davis to run his typical demonization campaign against his main opponent - Mr. Schwarzenegger. The well-connected Richard Riordan could have brought more pressure against the Governor on this central consideration. Nor does the well-vetted Richard Riordan have the kinds of skeletons in his closet that may (or may not) trouble Mr. Schwarzenegger. Of the two, Riordan led in most polls. It is by no means clear that Arnold Schwarzenegger is a better candidate than the alternative, Richard Riordan, would have been, which means that it is by no means clear that Mr. Schwarzenegger's announcement yesterday was bad news for Mr. Davis.

And, no, Dianne Feinstein will not reconsider. For example, Mr. Bustamante has little to lose and much to gain by running. That's not true of the Senator. The public employee unions, for example, love Mr. Bustamante on substance even if they won't give him money.

UPDATE: At least the New York Times sees the significance of Bustamante's action in its headline: Top California Democrat to Challenge Davis in Recall Vote. The Times also correctly gives the lie to any thought that the Governor will not be up top his old demonization tricks: "I would advise parents in California to turn off the TV for the next 60 days," Democratic official Bob Mulholland said. "If they are firing at you, we will certainly fire back."

Right. Just one detail Mr. Mulholland ignores: Mr. Schwarzenegger hasn't suggested that he will be "firing on" the Governor's groin. And Cruz Bustamante has made it a lot harder for Governor Davis to effectively demonize the entire effort to eject him from office - that is, the first of the two recall votes - as a Republican "coup."

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