Arnold – A Loner Inside GOP

While Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.) has always been something of a loner within the GOP, never has it been as obvious as in the last few days.

Indeed, at the National Governors Association meeting, it’s been hard to tell he’s a Republican at all.

He spent Saturday on a University of Virginia panel with Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.), and in private meetings with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and energy czar Carol Browner. He skipped the Republican Governors Association dinner that evening, an event most GOP governors attended.

On Sunday evening, Schwarzenegger was seated next to First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House black tie event for the nation’s governors.

Gov. Schwarzenegger is going to do what is in the best interest for California, not Republican governors, Democratic governors or any political strategy,” said Matt David, Schwarzenegger’s communications director. “He believes the federal stimulus will create jobs for California and fully stands behind Barack Obama.”

That much was clear from his Sunday go-around on the morning talk show circuit, when he needled his fellow Republican governors with a Democratic talking point, singling out current RGA chairman Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) on the question of whether to accept stimulus funds.

“Well, Governor Sanford says that he does not want to take the money, the federal stimulus package money,” he told host George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.” “And I want to say to him: I’ll take it. I’m more than happy to take his money, or any other governor in this country that doesn’t want to take this money, I take it, because we in California can need it.”

Sanford said he didn’t take offense at the California governor’s jibes, but that Schwarzenegger’s argument was shortsighted.

“I think that misses the whole point. I mean, it was – do I get it that you that you can watch out for South Carolina and pretend that North Carolina and Georgia don’t exist? Yes,” he said in an interview Sunday with POLITICO. “I guess in California’s mind there is no place other than California.”

“He’s got to do what he’s got to do. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do,” Sanford added. “I hope, though, as much as we are fiduciaries to our respective states, that we’re also fiduciaries to the country as a whole. And I think that that’s the part that’s missing in some of the stimulus debate where people are simply looking at, can I grab my piece of what’s on the table?”

Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-Utah) dismissed Schwarzenegger’s remarks as “political hyperbole.”

“The fact of the matter is, governors should not be into the game of political rhetoric,” said Huntsman. “I think the rhetoric serves very little purpose right now. What is important is making sense of the proceeds that we now have.”

Schwarzenegger arrived in Washington already an outlier in both his national and state parties. Back home, he skipped a state GOP convention last weekend amidst sharp criticism from Republicans angry over his signing of budget bills calling for $12.5 billion in new taxes. Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, leading contenders to succeed Schwarzenegger in 2010 when he is term-limited, lobbed thinly veiled criticism his way.

Schwarzenegger also was one of a small group of Republican governors who publicly supported Obama’s stimulus package. But unlike Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, another enthusiastic supporter of the stimulus, he has been conspicuously absent from Republican events and did not raise money for Monday’s gala RGA fundraising event—the group’s biggest fundraising event of the year and one that Crist chaired.

"I think he is being realistic and is trying to be pragmatic and practical," Crist said of Schwarzenegger. "We'll see how it works out for him, I'm not here to judge."

Not all Republicans have been so charitable in recent days. Schwarzenegger is caricatured on the cover of the latest issue of the conservative National Review as a crying baby, with the headline, “Girly-Man Ruins State: The Arnold Schwarzenegger Story.”

“Republicans are used to Arnold's self-centeredness,” said a top Republican operative who works with governors. “They've come to the conclusion he's an actor at heart, and will do whatever gets him the brightest lights and most cameras.”

When asked about Schwarzenegger’s relationship with other Republican governors, few took the opportunity to knock him directly, suggesting that they understood that the former Hollywood actor operated by his own rules.

“Oh, I think Arnold is fine with everybody,” Huntsman said with a smile. “He has his own unique set of challenges in California. It’s a highly regulated, overtaxed state, but that’s okay because many of us are benefiting from that…So Gov. Schwarzenegger’s always on our good list.”

Alexander Burns contributed to this report.

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