Schwarzenegger and Bush: Will he or won't he?

By Tim Grieve
Published August 13, 2004 8:27PM (EDT)

In order to put a more moderate sheen on his administration's hard-right record, George W. Bush is working hard to align himself with Republicans who often disagree with him. The trouble is, those Republicans often disagree with him.

Bush campaigned with Sen. John McCain this week, only to face questions about why he has failed to heed McCain's call to condemn a "dishonest and dishonorable" television ad about John Kerry's military service.

Now it's Arnold Schwarzenegger's turn to make things a little uncomfortable for the president. While McCain and Schwarzenegger have both been invited to speak at the Republican National Convention, they've both made it clear that they actually like John Kerry and won't be talking trash about him.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Schwarzenegger, appearing on a radio talk show Thursday, declined to say that John Kerry would be a bad president. "No, I'm not saying that at all," Schwarzenegger said, adding that Kerry is a friend with whom he has skied, skated and played hockey. "I promised that in this campaign, I would never talk negative about him, because he's a terrific human being. I just happen to have a different political philosophy and a different way of thinking the way the country ought to be served.''

Except for his convention appearance, it's not at all clear that Schwarzenegger will do much campaigning for Bush at all. Schwarzenegger appeared with Bush at a campaign stop in Southern California Thursday, and he played up his efforts for the president. "I just want you to know, President Bush, how hard I've been working for you here in California," Schwarzenegger said. "I've been organizing Republicans for Bush-Cheney. I've been organizing Austrian former bodybuilders for Bush-Cheney. I've been organizing girlie men for Bush-Cheney."

But as the Chronicle notes, Schwarzenegger "has seemingly changed his mind and changed it again when questioned about his plans to help Bush's re-election effort." Earlier this year, he said he was too busy with state business to travel around the country campaigning. Earlier this week, he told the Los Angeles Times that he likely would campaign for Bush out of state. On Thursday, the Chronicle says, Schwarzenegger was back to saying, "I will not go outside the state."

It's easy to understand Schwarzenegger's reluctance. Although a bruising fight over the state's budget has taken some of the shine off of Schwarzenegger's star, the governor remains popular in California. Bush is not. In the most recent Field polls, nearly two-thirds of Californians surveyed said they approve of Schwarzenegger's job performance, while 55 percent said they disapprove of Bush's. Schwarzenegger has little to gain by aligning himself with Bush or by alienating Kerry.

That's not to say that the Republicans will be without any Kerry-bashing help at their convention next month. As a way to address complaints that the administration's hard-right allies were being hidden away -- and in an effort to offset Ron Reagan's appearance at the Democratic convention last month -- the Republicans have announced that talk show host Michael Reagan will speak at the Republican convention in New York.

Reagan, the adopted son of the late president, seems perfectly happy to do the dirty work that McCain and Schwarzenegger won't. In a recent column, Reagan said that, their "Sesame Street convention" notwithstanding, the Democrats are aiming to "tax you down to your last dollar or surrender our sovereignty to France and Germany as soon as they get to the White House."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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