Boris Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger are two men that seemingly have many more differences than similarities. Schwarzenegger is famous for lifting weights whilst Johnson is famous for lifting wine glasses. Johnson is famous for boasting an incredibly substantial vocabulary whilst Schwarzenegger’s heavily accented English is famed for its Spartan qualities. Johnson’s preferred method of travel is a rather quaint bicycle whilst for Schwarzenegger, a giant Hummer was often his vehicle of choice. Although this list could potentially drag on, it is the similarities between the two that are the most intriguing.
In 2003, the most populace and wealthy state in the US, California was going through a unique political, economic and energy crisis. Amidst the turmoil, Governor Gray Davis was thrown out of office through a process called a recall. Under California’s recall law, the people of the state can collect signatures among voters who wish to throw an elected official out of office. After gaining the sufficient amount of signatures, Gray Davis was thrown out and a special election was called in which the people would vote for a new governor.
Although his name had been discussed for years before as a possible gubernatorial candidate, the chaos of the 2003 recall election and the utter failure of the professional politician Gray Davis opened a door for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
During the campaign, Schwarzenegger was described as a right winger by the liberal media but in reality, Schwarzenegger cleverly combined (some would say deviously combined) both conservative and liberal buzzwords whilst continually insisting that because of his unique individual charisma he could somehow manage to be all things to all people in a literally populist manner.
Schwarzenegger ended up winning over a state that had grown tired of the old drab political class and wanted something new. Whilst in office, Schwarzenegger occasionally clashed with his opponents and was once chastised for referring to them as “economic girly men”. But on the whole Schwarzenegger surprised many by being far more competent than many anticipated whilst he disappointed others by governing from the centre after running as something of a populist.
In today’s Britain, the failure of the grey and bland Theresa May to deliver Brexit has created a political crisis far more profound than that which faced California in 2003. Into the fray has stepped Boris Johnson, a man long considered to be both a Prime Minister in waiting and someone far too jovial, controversial, gaff prone and un-serious to be an actual Prime Minister.
But just as Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial ambitions rapidly moved from being a punch line to being reality, it now appears as though Boris Johnson is a week away form being Britain’s Prime Minister.
Whilst Donald Trump is a true populist who relies on cultivating the natural, inevitable and justifiable anger of his political base, like Schwarzenegger, Boris Johnson is a man whose biggest controversies stem from poorly worded statements – that is to say statements which were later seen as regrettable by the speaker. By contrast, Trump has never and likely will never apologise for his public remarks. if anything, the more people want Trump to apologise for his controversial remarks, the more he digs in and reaffirms his previous statements.
Donald Trump is in fact a man of populist political principles. Many try to pretend otherwise because his principles differ greatly from the erstwhile status quo, but as an economic and social nationalist, Trump’s rhetoric has remained consistent even if his policies are sometimes partly shaped by the old guard who remain ensconced in key positions in the so-called swamp of Washington.
By contrast, Boris Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger are classic bon vivants who have trained themselves to strategically bite their tongues in order to enter high office after long and successful careers in places where their words were less heavily scrutinised.
As such, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Boris Johnson is happy to use a bit of populism and a whole lot of charisma to his political advantage but also like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnson ultimately seeks political moderation as a means of publicly moderating the perceived personal excesses of a larger than life personality.
Whilst those with a short memory believe that Boris Johnson is about to become Britain’s Donald Trump, the far more accurate comparison between Johnson and American politics is with the surprising political career of Austrian born Hollywood action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger.