It was a world filled with mutants, prostitutes, double-crossed and diabolical leaders. No, not Sacramento, but the sci-fi thriller "Total Recall."
The treacherous femme fatale played by Sharon Stone slowly draws a gun from behind her back as she pleads with the action hero. "Sweetheart, be reasonable. After all, we're married."
The action hero shoots first. "Consider that a divorce," he says in his Austrian accent.
Not long ago, Republicans were so enamored of the foreign-born actor-turned governor that they contemplated trying to change the U.S. Constitution so he could run for president. No more.
It's not all that clear exactly who's divorcing whom. But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came to office with such high expectations in 2003, and the party that embraced him are so estranged that their differences are irreconcilable.
The California Republican Party delivered a new set of papers last week in the form of a news release calling for the suspension of Assembly Bill 32, the 2006 law that seeks to limit greenhouse gases and carbon emissions. The GOP has all but endorsed the oil industry-funded initiative headed for the November ballot that would derail AB 32.
Citing California's unemployment, California GOP Chairman Ron Nehring said in his statement: "The single most significant action we can take as a state is suspending California's global warming tax bill, and we applaud those who have worked so hard to qualify the AB 32 suspension initiative for the November ballot."
Schwarzenegger and the GOP have been growing ever-more distant since the 2005 election debacle when he lost four ballot measures that sought to limit the clout of public employee unions and give the governor more power over budget decisions. The rift deepened when he signed AB 32. Major business groups opposed it; only one Republican legislator voted for it.
Schwarzenegger views AB 32 as fundamental to his legacy as governor and vows to fight for its salvation. And even as a lame duck, Schwarzenegger is not defenseless. He delivered that message on the day last week when initiative proponents delivered their petitions to elections officials to place the measure on the ballot. Schwarzenegger took a shot at the oil industry, announcing he now opposes a deal he previously embraced that would have permitted more oil drilling off the Santa Barbara coast.
The governor would not talk for this column. But people around him believe the California Republican Party increasingly is controlled by a small group who take extreme positions that make little strategic sense.
Harsh stands related to illegal immigration and same-sex marriage, plus opposition to AB 32, will only alienate voters over time, and taint Republicans as angry and fearful.
There's a broader issue here.
As the Republican Party becomes more conservative, its leaders are making choices. Sen. John McCain, the once-maverick Republican who infuriated the right by pushing for campaign finance restrictions and citizenship for some illegal immigrants, has turned sharply to the right as he seeks re-election in Arizona.
In California, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner began his political career by proudly calling himself an Arnold Schwarzenegger Republican. Now that he is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, Poizner is portraying himself as a conservative, backing the initiative to suspend AB 32 and advocating an end to all services for illegal immigrants, including public schooling.
Others take different paths.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, once considered presidential or vice presidential material, bolted from the Republican Party and became an independent in a race for a U.S. Senate seat rather than run against a "tea party" conservative who leads in the polls.
The St. Petersburg Times reported that as Crist was mulling over the switch, he called Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger told him he would support him, no matter his choice.
Schwarzenegger surely has tilted away from the conservative wing of the Republican Party since taking office. Back in 2003, Shawn Steel, then California Republican Party chairman, pushed the GOP to support the recall of Gov. Gray Davis and organized party leaders to endorse Schwarzenegger.
Early in Schwarzenegger's tenure, Steel would join Schwarzenegger for cigars at high-end fundraisers. Nobody in the political universe was a bigger draw than Schwarzenegger. He was the man who promised to win over the hearts of Californians and bring glory to the California Republican Party.
"I am truly guilty of great expectations," Steel said. "I invested too much hope in a politician. I thought Arnold would be a different guy."
Now that the glow is gone, Steel vents much of his anger on AB 32. He has no doubt but that the GOP will endorse the initiative once it qualifies for the November ballot. AB 32 is one of the "dalliances of the environmental extremists" and "luxuries of the elite."
"That's a bill that needs to die — the quicker the better," said Steel, a Los Angeles attorney who is married to Board of Equalization member Michelle Steel and represents California on the Republican National Committee.
Another one-time Schwarzenegger supporter is Assemblyman Dan Logue, a real estate man who served on the Yuba County Board of Supervisors before winning his Chico-area Assembly seat.
Logue is one of the original proponents of the initiative to postpone AB 32. In his view, Schwarzenegger "abandoned his agenda — abandoned it for the political correctness religion of global warming."
"He is out of step" Logue said. "Every time he criticizes our initiative, our initiative's chance of passing increases."
When he was first elected, Schwarzenegger could have gone about reshaping the GOP by recruiting candidates and stumping for them. He never did. That would have required a level of interest in detail that Schwarzenegger rarely displayed. To the contrary, he neglected Republicans and gained a reputation for being an unusually selfish politician.
Now that his tenure is coming to a close, any chance he might have had to change the GOP is gone. Whether he can succeed in protecting his legacy — AB 32 — will be one of the year's cliffhangers.
Which brings us back to "Total Recall." The movie ends with the action hero finding a new love who is not trying to kill him, and the once poisonous Martian atmosphere becomes breathable. That was a Hollywood ending. Sacramento endings aren't always that happy.