Arnold Schwarzenegger: Trump ‘Wants to Be Me’

In an appearance at The Atlantic Festival, the former California governor leaned into his feud with the president—hard.

Kristoffer Tripplaar

He’s a former Apprentice host with a larger-than-life persona and a signature catchphrase. He’s a Republican who turned success on-screen into a late career in politics, winning a tough race against a better-credentialed opponent.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, at least in some ways, is a lot like Donald Trump. But the former California governor now revels in his role as a gadfly to the president.

That much was made clear today at The Atlantic Festival in Washington, D.C., where Schwarzenegger, in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, couldn’t resist the chance to goad the president. “I think he’s in love with me,” Schwarzenegger said. “I could not be more clear. I think he wakes up in the morning and says, To hell, I want to be Schwarzenegger.”

Schwarzenegger’s beef with the president kicked off in early 2017, when the former Terminator star took over as Trump’s replacement on The Celebrity Apprentice, which was aptly renamed The New Celebrity Apprentice. The show’s ratings stalled, leading Trump to ask a crowd at the usually somber National Prayer Breakfast to “pray for Arnold.” (Schwarzenegger couldn’t resist a shot back, tweeting: “I wish you the best of luck and I hope you’ll work for ALL of the American people as aggressively as you worked for your ratings.”)

“I don’t think he’s happy in his own skin,” Schwarzenegger said in today’s interview. “I think he wants to be me. He wants to be a great, studly guy that looks good and is muscular, doesn’t have a gut sticking out—all of those things.”

To be clear, Schwarzenegger’s qualms about Trump are more than some petty personal spat. He’s among the most vocal Never Trump Republicans, criticizing the president on a host of issues, from Trump’s racist tweet telling four congresswomen of color to “go back” to where they came from to—as Schwarzenegger put it in a Washington Post op-ed earlier this month—Trump’s attempts to “erase a decade of clean-air progress with a Sharpie.”

Apart from his ongoing feud with Trump, Schwarzenegger has been on a crusade in recent years to end partisan gerrymandering, the controversial practice by which state legislatures draw electoral maps that are skewed toward one political party. It’s a practice that only seems to be becoming more intense, as statistical advancements have allowed mapmakers to pinpoint exactly where Democratic and Republican voters live. In the 2018 midterms, for example, according to The New York Times, Democrats in North Carolina got 48.3 percent of the total vote in House races, but won just three of 13 seats in the state.

Gerrymandering “is the evil of all evils,” Schwarzenegger said, adding that it leads to incumbents in Congress getting reelected again and again, and doesn’t encourage bipartisanship.

In 2018, the former governor backed the creation of independent redistricting commissions in four states where they were up for a vote as ballot measures, and he hit the campaign trail in Michigan and Colorado trying to sell them to voters there. All four measures passed. This year, he launched an organization called the Fair Maps Incubator, spun out from the Schwarzenegger Institute at the University of Southern California.

Gerrymandering isn’t a new pet issue for him: As governor in 2008, Schwarzenegger signed a law that handed off redistricting to a nonpartisan commission in the state.

With 2020 on the horizon, advocates such as Schwarzenegger are running out of time to get states engaged in ending partisan gerrymandering: Since redistricting happens only once a decade, if states don’t create independent commissions by 2020, they’ll have to wait another 10 years before they can try again.

“It’s the politicians that are looking for voters,” Schwarzenegger said, “rather than the voters picking the politicians … It took 200 years, but people are finally waking up to this scam.”

He didn’t mince words when talking about the president either. Discussing Trump’s occasional attacks, Schwarzenegger said he’s unbothered. “I think it’s perfectly okay,” he said. “You have to take it with a sense of humor. And then it gives me a chance to say something back to him.”