Arnold Schwarzenegger says voters were right to retain Newsom, calls GOP field 'disastrous'

Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about Digital Sustainability during the Digital X conference in Cologne, Germany, on Sept. 7.
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Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became California's governor in 2003 after a recall, said he was relieved that Gavin Newsom kept his job.

“I think voters made the right decision,” Schwarzenegger said in an interview on Wednesday, the day after Democratic Gov. Newsom beat the recall. “It’s better to stay with someone who you know what they’re going to do, rather than someone who comes in wacky and is changing everything around.”

Still, the Republican added he was hopeful that the special election was a “wake-up call” for Newsom that “makes him perform better.”

The 74-year-old movie star declined to say how he voted in the special election. Schwarzenegger has largely avoided weighing in on the effort to replace Newsom, though in recent years he has been an acerbic critic of former President Trump.

In a FaceTime interview with The Times from his sunny Brentwood backyard, however, Schwarzenegger spoke out about the recall election, the future of the state GOP and what he’s working on these days. He has just returned from a trip to Germany to promote his climate change agenda. He is fully invested in efforts to stop gerrymandering during the redistricting process currently underway.

He's busy in Hollywood, including working on "Triplets," the sequel to his 1988 hit film, "Twins," with Danny DeVito. And he's fundraising for the "After School All Stars" program he founded in Los Angeles in the 1990s that's now in 13 states. (A seat at a poker fundraiser at his house on Saturday requires a $50,000 donation.)

The former Mr. Universe, who remains a registered Republican despite his disagreements with the state party's path, was harshly critical of the GOP field in the recall.

“It’s just disastrous,” he said, arguing that the Republican candidates would have connected better with voters if they had highlighted issues such as education, the environment and the state’s robust economy.

They did the opposite, Schwarzenegger said, such as talking about eliminating environmental laws supported by most Californians.

“The voters want to protect the environment," he said. "We have the strictest environmental laws in California, and we have proven to the world that you can have strictest environmental laws and at same time be the most successful economy.”

In 2007, Schwarzenegger had warned the California GOP that it was “dying at the box office." He said he had been hopeful that state Republicans would adapt as they lost election after election.

In his speeches, Schwarzenegger said, he focuses on how he has learned more from failure than from success. “I thought that would apply to the Republican Party," he said, "that they failed and they understand why and they make adjustments. But they haven’t.”

Invoking the adage that insanity is doing something over and over again when it never works, he said, “It’s the definition of insanity. And that’s what it is.”

Schwarzenegger said he saw parallels with the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis, the only successful recall of a governor in the nation's history.

“People were clearly dissatisfied with the governor, with Sacramento,” he said. “You cannot put everything just on Newsom; people felt we have not really moved forward as a state in a way that was promised, so they were angry. There’s no difference than there was under Gray Davis.”

This time, there was no candidate on the replacement list who appealed to a large share of California voters, said Schwarzenegger, who won more votes in the 2003 recall than the anti-recall, pro-Davis side. (No candidate this year came close to receiving the number of votes Newsom received to stay in office.)

Schwarzenegger called out conservative talk radio host and GOP front-runner Larry Elder by name as he concluded with a Hollywood take on Newsom surviving the recall.

“This is a good comeback story," he said. Newsom "was down and in the trenches and against the ropes. I think he woke up and made adjustments, talking issues and all that stuff. And he was very fortunate he had Elder as the leading candidate on the other side.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.