ARNOLD WATCHING….For Arnold watchers, the LA Times has a pretty good summary of the latest meltdown from California’s governor:

In a matter of days, a budget agreement thought to be within reach has devolved into a shouting match and a national spectacle over the “girlie men” comments. And a central Schwarzenegger goal ? an on-time budget without the “summer slam-fest”? has eluded him amid a tone more combative and partisan than at any point in his eight-month tenure.

….A political aide said the governor was preparing a mass mailing targeting swing districts represented by Democrats that would grade lawmakers based on their allegiance to Schwarzenegger’s legislative agenda. An anti-Schwarzenegger lawmaker would be given a failing grade. The mailings would include pictures of individual lawmakers. Sample report cards have already been drawn up.

I’m just flabbergasted by this whole debacle. As the article notes, the biggest feather in Arnold’s cap ? by far ? would have been a decent budget deal delivered on time and without the usual annual dramafest. It would have proven once and for all that he was different from Gray Davis and could actually get results from California’s famously fractured legislature.

Instead, he actually seems to be trying to prevent a deal. The original sticking point was a disagreement over local funding, but really, the two sides weren’t all that far apart. A deal wouldn’t have been that hard. But then, out of nowhere, Arnold suddenly began pushing two anti-labor measures that aren’t related to the budget and aren’t even all that important to his base. (One of them, in fact, is mostly a giveaway to a single special interest, Laidlaw, a school bus operator.) Both of these measures seem to have been chosen for their ability to enrage Democrats more than anything else.

And all followed up with his juvenile “girlie men” comments and threats to campaign against any Democrat who doesn’t toe the governor’s line. It’s hard to draw any conclusion except that he wants budget talks to fail and is hoping to use that for partisan gains in November.

Which might very well be the answer. Arnold might be playing a longer and riskier game than anyone thinks, mostly designed to make his future easier ? especially since next year’s budget is going to make this year’s look like a stroll in the park. And by waving a red flag in front of the Democratic bulls, he might be hoping to get them to lose their tempers and seal their own doom.

Will they fall for it? Or will they hold their fire and serve up their revenge this November Klingon style ? cold and tasty?

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