Capitol Journal: Forget comparisons, Trump’s bombastic showmanship is in a league of its own

Donald Trump at a rally Friday in Orlando, Fla.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Two things should be debunked about Donald Trump: One is that he’s the new Arnold Schwarzenegger. Another is that he’s continuing what was started by another California governor, Pete Wilson.

I’ve read and listened to these comparisons in some news media recently and they’re simply stretches of baloney.

And as the Republican fisticuffs get closer to California, the false correlations should be chucked. Our primary election will be among the nation’s last on June 7 — sort of a grand finale ending a fireworks display. And for Republicans, the late California voting for once could help determine the presidential nominee.

True, Trump and Schwarzenegger both are celebrity showmen. And never underestimate the desire of voters to be entertained. Ronald Reagan was another star who got his political start by attracting the curious and capturing their attention.


But Reagan did it with soaring rhetoric about America being a “shining city on the hill” that welcomes immigrants — not a grumpy old country that builds moats and walls. Not a sneering Walt Kowalski, Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino, who barks: “Get off my lawn.”

“Donald Trump’s message is very negative,” says Ken Khachigian, a longtime Republican strategist who wrote speeches for Reagan. “There’s no sense of hope or creativity. No shining city on the hill. There’s no hill.”

Schwarzenegger also was upbeat and positive, unlike Trump. Sure, he occasionally feigned a Terminator bully act, aggravating adversaries by calling them “girlie-men.” But he also had a self-deprecating sense of humor.

“Ronald Reagan could throw a political punch, but he did it with courtesy, with humor,” Schwarzenegger once told a gathering at the Reagan Presidential Library. “In the heat of political battle, you say things that you wish you hadn’t said. And you girlie-men out there know exactly what I’m talking about.”

It’s against Trump’s nature to admit being wrong. And it’s always someone else’s fault.

Never would you hear Republicans Schwarzenegger, Reagan or Wilson call a woman ugly or a bimbo. Or hear them call an opponent “a lying guy” or “choke artist,” and bellow that if anyone in the crowd sees “somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them.”

One columnist for another paper wrote that Wilson was the Trump of his day. Hardly.

Yes, Wilson focused on illegal immigration while running for reelection and crusaded for Proposition 187, aimed at denying most government services to people here illegally. It passed overwhelmingly, but was later ruled unconstitutional.

Wilson, however, campaigned civilly. He’ll never be forgiven by Latinos for running an ugly TV ad that featured grainy news footage of people running north across the Mexican border. It proclaimed in a doomsday tone: “They keep coming.”

But, unlike Trump, Wilson ran against the immigration system and didn’t attack immigrants personally. He was ticked at the federal government for not helping to pay for their government services — including incarceration — and not securing the border.

Trump characterized Mexicans migrating to the U.S. illegally as rapists, drug dealers and violent criminals.

Another distinction between all these Republicans is Wilson especially — but also Schwarzenegger and Reagan — studied up on issues and hired experts to guide them. Trump doesn’t know Syria from Syracuse, Libya from Lebec.

Trump is clueless and classless, a bombastic blowhard.

But, hey, these primary elections are telling us as much about his supporters as they are Trump. This guy is unfit to be the president of a local Rotary Club, let alone our commander in chief and leader of the free world.

His supporters obviously don’t care. They’re angry for legitimate reasons — that the middle class is declining, wages are stagnant, tuition has skyrocketed, governments take care of themselves and politicians don’t deliver as promised.

“People know what his shortcomings are,” says Sacramento-based Tea Party Express strategist Sal Russo, who’s not involved in the race. “But they’re just so angry and frustrated that they’re voting for someone to go out and shake things up.”

Some also are angry for a darker reason. For them, this is their last stand against brown-skinned immigrants and culture change.

Exit polls in Florida and Ohio Tuesday found that Trump attracted overwhelming support from voters who think immigrants who came here illegally should be deported. Never mind that there are 11 million of them and it would be virtually impossible.

Trump voters are using the primaries as a vehicle to send a message.

“Except when that vehicle crashes, it’s going to wash out the party,” says California Republican consultant Wayne Johnson, who mostly works for conservatives.

If Trump wins the nomination, Johnson says, “the only way he doesn’t hurt down-ticket Republicans in California is if the Democrats nominate someone with bigger negatives — like Kim Jong-un” of North Korea.

California does not look like a particularly friendly primary state for Trump, especially with true conservative Ted Cruz on the ballot. For one thing, only Republicans can vote in the GOP primary. Independents aren’t allowed. And the declining Republican Party in California is pretty much down to rock-core conservatives.

Also, says Republican analyst Tony Quinn, Trump attracts the disaffected working class. But “in California the working class is mostly non-white. And they’ve been alienated by Trump,” he says.

Sacramento-based Republican strategist Rob Stutzman has been calling for conservatives to unite behind a third-party candidate.

Trump isn’t close to matching up to Schwarzenegger and Wilson, let alone qualified to lead the party of Reagan and Lincoln.

Follow @LATimesSkelton on Twitter


Trump warns of riots if GOP denies him nomination

What a Trump presidency would actually look like

Follow what’s happening on the campaign trail

Updates from Sacramento