— Since January, when Californians began gathering signatures to oust Gov. Gray Davis, the Democratic establishment has opposed the idea.
"We stand firmly, 100 per cent behind Gray Davis — no ifs, ands, or buts," Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said on July 17.
So Republican officials must love the idea, right?
"Our position is: We're not involved in it at this point," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan on July 25.
Why not? Democrats obviously hate the idea of one of their own being removed from office. But surely, the White House would love to have Davis replaced by a Republican in time for the 2004 election, no?
"If a Republican does win and … [the] economy has not turned around substantially in the state of California, that could go against them in the next presidential election," says Dane Waters, president and co-chairman of the Initiative & Referendum Institute.
More generally, many in the GOP see the recall as dangerous terrain.
"It takes the power out of the zone [professional politicians] are comfortable with … and puts it in the hands of the people," says Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, and a close friend of the White House. "Whether you're Republican or Democrat, this is frightening."
"Both the RNC and DNC probably wish that this recall effort wasn't taking place," Waters adds.
The lack of a playbook for the current situation in the Golden State is unsettling to many political officials. Politicians regardless of party blanch at the idea of this unprecedented move to recall a governor and replace him on the same ballot. California politics has become circus-like … and it's bound to get even more unpredictable.
Norquist adds that the recall seems to violate a sort of gentleman's agreement about political wars, one that recalls the Battle of Waterloo between the forces commanded by French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington.
"Supposedly, Wellington was told by his artillery men that they knew where Napoleon was and should they be taking a couple of shots at him with the cannon," Norquist says. "And Wellington thought that this would be a bad idea. Generals often think it's a bad idea even to take out the other team's generals, because it leads to bad practices.
"It's frightening enough to be an elected official and have to face the electorate every two, four, or six years," Norquist continues. "To think the electorate can come and knock on your shoulders in years three and five is unsettling."
Norquist's polar political opposite — consumer advocate Ralph Nader — concurs that recalls are frightening for politicians because it gives the people greater power and "to hold their elected officials accountable more frequently between elections."
While Nader doesn't particularly care for this recall, which he sees as having been distorted by big money, in general he says that "it's very important for people to be able to vent their displeasure, because if they don't vent their displeasure — as the recall allows them to do — they suppress it and that turns into apathy."
The discomfort of politicians is tangible: They don't know the long-term impact of any of this. They feel they have lost control of the process. And they wonder how this will affect the way they do business.
"It disrupts the cushy wheeling and dealing that the two parties engage in with their financiers behind closed doors," says Nader.
For the next 58 days, until the recall election, politicians across the country will be watching and hoping that what's going on in the largest state in the nation doesn't spread. This will last at least until Oct. 7, when it will all end — they hope.