Schwarzenegger, The Ur-Trump

Of all the precedents for Donald Trump, perhaps the most instructive is the most recent, that would be that other celebrity-politician, movie star and hormone mutant, Arnold Schwarzenegger. His first election campaign has telling parallels to Trump's, and it features our own Arianna Huffington.

Already married into the political royalty of the Kennedys, Schwarzenegger had openly discussed his political ambitions for years. The real beginning of his political career was in 2002 with his successful sponsorship of Proposition 49, that made state grants available for after-school programs. Then, on July 24, 2003, a petition qualified for the ballot both to recall the hugely unpopular Democratic Governor Gray Davis and to elect a new governor.

Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy on the Jay Leno Show and the next day did the rounds of the talk shows where he proved disastrously uninformed. There was soon a carnival atmosphere to the recall with its 135 candidates including, among a number of serious candidates, former TV child actor Gary Coleman and porn star Mary Carey. Though his political views were unknown, few even knew he was a Republican, Schwarzenegger had the most name recognition, so he had a sizeable lead in the polls.

He participated in only one of the five televised gubernatorial debates. There were four other top candidates in that debate, including Arianna Huffington running as an independent progressive. Full of sneering sarcasm, Schwarzenegger was aggressive and pugnacious, dropping scripted quips and talking over the other panelists. If Schwarzenegger's cartoon of masculinity and Trump's reality show character have their stylistic differences, still, clearly recognizable in both, is the profile of the Republican alpha male, a key element of which is misogyny.

Arianna and Schwarzenegger engaged almost immediately, and she particularly became a target of his contempt. At one point, Schwarzenegger dismissed her with the snide suggestion she should "try more decaf." At another point, Schwarzenegger was trying to interrupt her when Arianna retorted: "This is the way you treat women. We know that." She was referring to rumors that caused him to bail out of the 2000 gubernatorial race, but the comment was also prophetic.

Five days before the election, the LA Times published a story headlined: "Women Say Schwarzenegger Groped, Humiliated Them" . The acts allegedly took place over three decades. A campaign aide denies the accusations.

In interviews with The Times, three of the women described their surprise and discomfort when Schwarzenegger grabbed their breasts. A fourth said he reached under her skirt and gripped her buttocks. A fifth woman said Schwarzenegger groped her and tried to remove her bathing suit in a hotel elevator. A sixth said Schwarzenegger pulled her onto his lap and asked whether a certain sexual act had ever been performed on her.

The next day, Schwarzenegger told a crowd of supporters, "It is true that I was on rowdy movie sets and I have done things that were not right which I thought then was playful... I am deeply sorry about that and I apologize."

Eventually sixteen women came forward with similar allegations. Of course, Schwarzenegger's female defenders cited Bill Clinton. But there is an unbridgeable chasm between the two cases: all of Clinton's transgressions were consensual, none of Schwarzenegger's were. His were different from rape only in degree. At least Trump's misogyny is only verbal.

Davis was recalled and Schwarzenegger, nevertheless, was elected to replace him with a plurality of 48.6%, his votes exceeding those of the next five candidates combined. In 2006, he was reelected.

In spite of those graphic allegations against him, Schwarzenegger was able to use his celebrity to flip the biggest blue state and take the helm of the world's fifth-largest economy. He successfully reused movie star Ronald Reagan's gimmick for winning the same office in 1966. However, GOP dreams of ending the current Democratic hegemony in California were dashed when Schwarzenegger left office with an approval rating of 26%, only one point above Gray Davis' when he was recalled.

Schwarzenegger the Groper benefitted from the same celebrity teflon that protects Trump, whose catalogue of weekly scandals would have long ago destroyed a non-celebrity candidate. From Reagan to Trump, the titillation of voting for a celebrity has been and still is consistently underestimated. Last year, star pollster Nate Silver gave Trump a 2% chance of winning the Republican nomination.