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Schwarzenegger and Trump Switch Roles in Ironic Twist of Fate

When it was announced that Schwarzenegger would replace Donald Trump as the face of "Celebrity Apprentice" the news had a certain kind of symmetry to it.
Image: Schwarzenegger attends the opening of the Arnold Classic Asia Multi-Sport Festival in Hong Kong
Actor and former professional bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger attends the opening of the Arnold Classic Asia Multi-Sport Festival in Hong Kong, China August 20, 2016.BOBBY YIP / Reuters

When it was announced last fall that Hollywood icon and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would be replacing current GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump as the face of the popular "Celebrity Apprentice" reality TV franchise the news had a certain kind of symmetry to it.

After all, Schwarzenegger is a larger-than-life, occasionally boorish, figure with near-universal name recognition, who was able to become a darling of the right (albeit briefly) despite a long track record of liberal views on social issues, allegations of sexism and no previous experience in elected office.

A decade ago, the self-styled "Governator" was the celebrity-turned politician du jour, winning elections twice in the decidedly blue state of California. But now it's Trump that is the unlikely standard bearer of the GOP brand, while Schwarzenegger's style of Republicanism appears to have fallen out of favor.

Besides being an immigrant himself, Schwarzenegger was very much a mouthpiece for the "big tent" party concept GOP leaders are often eager to preach, but seem to loathe to practice. His more centrist streak spoke to a Republican Party poised to make real inroads with minorities 12 years ago, but today faces potentially historic deficits with Asians, Latinos and African-Americans.

Related: Schwarzenegger replaces Donald Trump as 'Celebrity Apprentice' host

When Schwarzenegger addressed the Republican National Convention in 2004, he was so popular with rank-and-file members of the party that there was a real push—endorsed by the "Terminator" star himself—to have the Constitution amended so the Austrian born ex-weight lifter could legally seek the presidency.

What a difference a few polarizing years in office makes. Besides infuriating the right with his green initiatives, tax increases, embrace of universal health care and tenuous outreach to the LGBT community, Schwarzenegger also turned off the rest of California's electorate by piling up huge budget deficits, calling his Democratic opponents "girlie men," and pushing failed ballot initiatives to right the ship.

Although he was re-elected handily in 2006, his governorship didn't wear well, and when he left office with record low approval ratings in 2011, all that talk of passing a Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment fell virtually silent. The Democrats took over the statehouse, which they haven't relinquished since, and Schwarzenegger returned to his previous stock-and-trade, big budget action movies, with middling results.

During this period, Schwarzenegger largely stayed out of national politics. He did, however, pointedly take down Indiana's controversial religious freedom bill (spearheaded by current GOP VP nominee Gov. Mike Pence) in a blistering op-ed in the Washington Post.

Related: Schwarzenegger says governorship cost him $200 million

“As an American, I’m incredibly concerned about what happened in Indiana this week and the threat of similar laws being passed in other states. As a Republican, I’m furious,” Schwarzenegger wrote.

“We must be the party of limited government, not the party that legislates love. We must be the party that stands for equality and against discrimination in any form,” he wrote.

Just two months later, Trump announced his bid for the presidency and many have made that case that religious and ethnic discrimination form the bedrock of his candidacy, or at the very least, are an intrinsic part of his appeal.

Schwarzenegger has periodically been dragged into the 2016 campaign. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who became the de facto choice of moderates as the contentious primary race unfolded.

And when Trump attacked Gonzalo Curiel, the Mexican-American judge overseeing the case against his embattled university, and questioned his impartiality, Schwarzenegger was enraged again. This time he had some real skin in the game, since he was the one who'd nominated Curiel to the superior court in 2007.

"Judge Curiel is an American hero who stood up to the Mexican cartels. I was proud to appoint him when I was Gov.," he tweeted in June. But his rebuke may have fallen on deaf ears, as Trump's take-no-prisoners, conspiracy theory-laden style of a campaign—with its calls for a Muslim ban and the mass deportations of undocumented immigrants—is much more welcome in today's GOP than Schwarzenegger's comparatively more conciliatory approach.

As he launches this new enterprise—and oddly enough fills Trump's shoes—Schwarzenegger increasingly seems like a man without a party. Back in March, he walked out of an interview, which was supposed to promote a fitness expo he was headlining, when he was asked to weigh in on the real estate mogul.

In May, he took a more nuanced stand during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press."

While making the case that the American public wants to see its two major parties work together more, Schwarzenegger reiterated that he is a Republican and "always will be a Republican."

"What is more important ... is not what I think about Donald Trump," said Schwarzenegger. "I believe in what President Eisenhower said, politics is like the road. The left and the right represents the gutter and the middle is drive-able. I think this is exactly where the action is, the middle."

Related: Trump's History Undermines New Outreach to Black Voters

At the end of the interview, Schwarzenegger refused to take an official stand on the 2016 race, only promising that he will make an endorsement announcement in his own "unusual' way before Election Day.

It won't be on his version of "Celebrity Apprentice," which won't appear until next January. By then, the American public will either have taken "a chance" on Trump (as the candidate recently implored black voters to do) or he will have gone down to defeat.

If the latter scenario takes place, Schwarzenegger may have the last laugh, since Trump won't be able to return to his old stomping grounds with the boardroom already occupied.