Nov 17, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Schwarzenegger on Trump, Biden: "They're both flawed"

Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks at London Palladium on Oct. 24, 2023 in London, England. Photo: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Fane

Twenty years ago today, Arnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in as California's unlikely 38th governor. He spoke with Axios earlier this week to promote a new audiobook on the legacy of that recall election.

Driving the news: As he lit a cigar outdoors, under a yellow sun umbrella, he reflected on two terms in office and work since as chairman of a USC institute bearing his name and the motto, "Advancing policy, not politics."

Here are highlights from our conversation:

Do you believe that Donald Trump or Joe Biden should be president again?

"I'm a big believer in new blood and a new generation. But if that's what it needs, if that's what this country needs, to have that kind of a showdown again and to finally find out, you know, that Biden is, you know, the legitimate president, then so be it.

"The bottom line is, I think we need to find new leaders. To me they're both flawed and I just think we're at a time now where we need someone strong, where we need visionaries, and not people that tinker around with little Mickey Mouse stuff.

"They’re [politicians in Washington] killing themselves to get just a simple budget going. I mean, where are we now? You know, it's just, it's embarrassing to the rest of the world the way we kind of, like, can't get things done, we can't solve the immigration issue, we can't solve the health care issue, we can't solve the debt that we're accumulating and the deficit that we continuously have… all the infrastructure problems…"

What would it mean if Trump were actually re-elected again?

"We don't know where is Trump going to be, legally. We don't know what's going to happen with Biden, if he really is going to stay in. We don't know if there's not a third candidate coming. So I think all of this is premature, to talk about poll numbers, to talk about any of this stuff."

Are you open to a third-party candidate, or do you think it's a bad idea?

"I'm open to anything, I'm open to someone fresh coming in and someone new kind of taking over. That's what I'm interested in."

What's your biggest worry today about democracy?

"Gerrymandering, which really makes people very extreme to the left and to the right and therefore not being able to get together and solve problems… because of that you will lose millions of votes and people get discouraged voting. My concern also is when they start closing polling stations, so minorities cannot participate and therefore it's not really a true democracy."

What does democracy mean to you?

"I came over here because it's a country with a great democracy, it's a country that is free, it's the country that has the greatest opportunities and there's a great political system…Democracy, as they say, it's not a bystander sport. You have to go in there and participate… We have seen our vulnerabilities in 2020 and we have to kind of make sure that those things don't happen again.”

What's left for you, on your bucket list?

"For me, now, it's all about teaching other people the things that I've learned, how to make other people more happy and more successful…You never know where life takes you… the most important thing is to have a vision. What do you feel that you want to do in life? Because we all need to get up in the morning and have a purpose… If you have no goal and no purpose, you have nothing.

"I always had a very clear goal. In bodybuilding, I wanted to be the greatest bodybuilder of all times. I had a very clear goal to be a leading man in movies. Not just to be an actor but to be a leading man… and when there was the recall I saw myself as the governor. I saw it very clearly. There was no one that could persuade me otherwise.

"Don't listen to the naysayers… If you want to be successful enough, you've got to work your ass off... Anyone who is looking for a shortcut is not going to make it... If you look at the most successful people in the world, they work their asses off.

"Also, to be a complete person you've got to give something back to your community… you have to recognize that you're not a self-made man."

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