October 12th, 2008
12:18 PM ET
14 years ago

McCain's closing argument: A push for divided government?

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/12/art.dividedgovt.gi.jpg caption="Some conservatives say Americans may want to keep their government divided."](CNN) - A McCain senior advisor and a major campaign surrogate suggested Sunday that the GOP’s poor prospects in the House and Senate should give a boost to the Republican presidential nominee’s candidacy.

"Do we really believe that the American public is going to feel safe by having both the head of the Congress and the head of the White House from the same party that has had so many challenges with the way they’ve run Washington over the last couple of years?" McCain campaign manager Rick Davis asked on Fox News Sunday.

It’s a strategy popular with some high-profile conservative voices. Last month, columnist George Will urged McCain to make the idea his “closing argument,” pointing to the fact that the Democratic Congress was drawing approval ratings even more dismal than President Bush’s historic lows: “His argument should assert the virtues of something that voters, judging by their behavior over time, prefer - divided government,” he wrote, that “compels compromises that curb each party's excesses.”

And in June – just weeks after the Democratic primary race drew to a close – Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund made essentially the same case, citing the the strategy’s effectiveness for congressional Republicans in 1996.

“Facing a presidential defeat in addition to losses in Congress, Republicans boldly appealed to the public's fondness for divided government,” wrote Fund, pointing to GOP ads that year that featured “a fortune-teller staring into a crystal ball showing over-the-top scenes of Biblical devastation, plague and conflict,” that accused the media of trying to keep voters from the polls, and warned of the consequences of “hand[ing] Bill Clinton a blank check” by giving one party control of two branches of government.

“It worked,” Fund wrote, adding that “Independent voters may not like the idea of having the government completely controlled by the trio of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.”

Those arguments were echoed Sunday by Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a major McCain surrogate. "I don’t think the country is going to like the Democratic Party running the table on taxes, on education, on health care and having kind of the liberal, unchecked, imbalanced approach to all of those issues," he told Fox. "It’s going to be bad for the country.

"I think having John McCain as president to balance that out, and be able to work across the aisle as he has throughout his career to get things done would be a good compromise, a good balance. …People like balance, especially in Minnesota."

It may be a tough sell with some embattled Republican lawmakers. A few GOP legislators – like Connecticut’s Chris Shays, Oregon’s Gordon Smith, and Nebraska’s Lee Terry – seem to be embracing the opposite strategy: Instead of running campaign ads warning of the dangers of an unchecked Obama presidency, they have looked to link themselves to the Democratic nominee.

And Republican members of Congress may not rush to embrace a talking point that concedes historic losses loom ahead. Still, it’s a concession to political reality that may have some currency on the trail for the presidential ticket in the race’s closing days: most GOP strategists have long conceded the party will not reclaim the majority this cycle, and some now predict it may lose enough Senate seats to allow Democrats to claim a filibuster-proof majority for the first time in three decades.

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • Congress • John McCain
soundoff (296 Responses)
  1. Catholic-mom-4-OBAMA

    DISTURBING. What is McCain thinking? McCain has already been inciting hate and division ............ now what?

    Am I the only one who sees how hateful and disturbing the Republican rallies have become?

    People read some of the posts here by the far-right they are downright scary!

    @ ENE DIAZ: Please get your facts straight, do your own research.
    The FBI found 50 cards that were wrong. That's hardly nationwide voter fraud.

    I fear that when Sen. Obama wins, that the Republican-lie-hate-fear-and-attack machine will SUE to stop him from taking office. They are already making their case.

    The Republicans will lie, cheat, attack and incite violence doing anything to stop............ Sen. Obama. SHAME ON THEM!

    October 12, 2008 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  2. Twduke

    Wow...they just don't get it....this election is about CHANGE....not gridlock....taking America in new directions on energy, foreign policy, economy, judicial, etc...

    Plus...the thought of Palin being a heartbeat away...really bothers alot of us out here.....

    October 12, 2008 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  3. Tommy T

    Ridiculous! Pick us so you can have gridlock! The GOP has had its chance and blown it big-time. Step aside, it's someone else's turn.

    October 12, 2008 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  4. Ron L

    But I have a MUCH larger issue than this latest political strategy…
    And that is with Governor Palin as a potential Vice President ..she's just not that smart. No, offense it's just the truth. What other reason would the McCain campaign have for not ALLOWING her to do ANY more interviews without Senator McCain at her side??
    Because she is not qualified and you can REALLY tell when you ask her questions that require spontaneous answers other than remembered talking points.
    I ask you members of the Republican party..Do you REALLY want this type of person in the White House?? The last person we elected that was of average intelligence was….
    George W Bush and look at the mess the world is in from that election!!
    WHEN is she going to do interviews on CNN, ABC, NBC, MSNBC. How in the world are we allowing this woman to run for this office without going on the Sunday morning interview process??

    October 12, 2008 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  5. M. Porter

    No matter how the pundits try to slice it, McCain has a near impossible task. He has to attack his own party's record and his own Republican president, which won't sit well w/conservatives. At the same time McCain has to say exactly what Obama has been saying all along: we need change from what has happened in the last 8 years. For McCain, there is no comfortable position between the Democrats and the Republicans.

    He's tried out a new image by calling himself a "candidate of change. " But he can't just repeat Obama's ideas, so when he tries to present himself as a maverick who is far removed from the Republicans, he ends up in no-man's-land. He's not really an Independent, like Joe Lieberman, because McCain has always supported his party ...... he's still a conservative Republican.

    It will be interesting to see the view of himself that McCain presents in this final debate. All of his previous attempts have just confused the voters... actually, he seems confused himself.

    October 12, 2008 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  6. sal

    "Do we really believe that the American public is going to feel safe by having both the head of the Congress and the head of the White House from the same party

    I guess thats why Bush failed. Yeah, Right! Bush refuse to work with congress DEms, and vetoed every worthy bill. Bill Clinton work with GOP congress for 6 years.

    Time for Change

    McCain Palin represent real change. Believe it or not , for the worse. Palin cannot touch Cheney tissue paper, when it comes to many issue. McCain could done better, but he wanted a Puppet. LOL

    Obama Biden have won

    comming Clear

    powered by the people.
    The days are going by fast.

    October 12, 2008 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  7. The Cosmos & MCCAIN Rocks!!


    October 12, 2008 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  8. Overseas Obama supporter

    The nation has had 102 major-party tickets covering 51 presidential elections over more than two centuries. And we've never had a ticket in which both candidates on the same ticket were responsible for ethics violations before a national election. McCain/Palin is the first.

    It makes the whole "reform" pitch a little more difficult, doesn't it?

    October 12, 2008 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  9. sick n tired

    To Bella from Florida: You didnt vote for Clinton or Kerry!!! So take you're BS story where people are STUPID enough to believe it OK?

    October 12, 2008 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  10. PAS

    We have had divided government with no action for too long. We need action NOW not political compromise. Give power to the Democrates and lets get things done instead of just talking and fighting over words.

    October 12, 2008 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  11. rich

    What about this closing argument: my campaign is in the gutter, and I'm facing a landslide in motion as we speak.

    October 12, 2008 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  12. johnrj08

    If we're going to get out of the current financial debacle, we need to get rid the 'aisle' that McCain says he can reach across for at least four years. Otherwise, we're going to all get what we deserve: a gridlocked government of second-rate politicians.

    October 12, 2008 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  13. I Invented the McMuffin... and fire

    If John McCain is elected you'll see a new paradigm of division that you've never imagined before. The term "culture war" doesn't begin to scratch the surface.

    October 12, 2008 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  14. KofTX

    While there are virtues to divided government, In these times of economic uncertainty the last thing we need is more partisan stagnation.

    Even more, this argument sounds soooo cheap and disingenuous coming from Republicans who have had control over both Congress and the White House for 6 of the last 8 years.

    October 12, 2008 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  15. Brain in DC

    Running out of ideas is better than coming up with stupid ideas. What's next?

    October 12, 2008 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  16. suzyku

    What next?! On a daily basis they are changing their tactics, the only constant is that they remain negative! mccain/palin are really both pretty disgusting and the whole Republican party seems to be just as bad. I've had enough of the republicans to last a lifetime! They should be abolished and replaced with some other party that has common sense and decency!

    October 12, 2008 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  17. Papasan in Arizona

    Proof that McCain is desperate for traction in this election are the stupidity his campaign advisors give him. McCai/Palin are in for a rude awakening. The last resort of all Failing Republican Campaigns are the Right Wing Looneys! Sure Republicans are mad, they are waking up from a long peaceful Bush slumber, to find two morons [McCain/Palin], with a disturbing megalomaniac love affair with themselves, out of touch with our Nations true issues, and running a revolting Smear and Fear campaign! That's a tough wake up call, "MY FRIENDS"!
    The McCain solution is an Ignorant Slang Talking Power Abusing Junk Yard Dog [Palin] scrambling around the Nation drumming up Racist Bigotry to smokescreen the obvious inept incompetence of the McCain/Palin campaign! Americans face the hardest financial disaster in the History of the USA, this is your idea of Change! John McCain / Sarah Palin have no idea what Americans trying to survive face. 401K plans gutted, Unemployment, Foreclosures, and the Global Economy in disarray...
    McCain/Palin are a disgusting self serving disgrace. Clearly proving they are not up to the complex task of keeping the Nation together in hard times.

    P.S. McCain, please do not come back here to Arizona.

    October 12, 2008 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  18. Joe

    Obama has zero experience. People say it's scary that Palin "could" be president but Obama is running for the number one spot and she has more experience than he does. If your family owned a business and you needed someone to run the company, would you rather have someone with 40yrs of experience (McCain) or someone with 2 (Obama)? If Obama was white he would have never ever ever gotten this far and everyone knows it. It's just so rare for a black man to come off educated, so people think its amazing. He tells people exactly what they want to hear even tho the money isn't there to make any of it actually happen. Open your eyes people.

    October 12, 2008 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  19. Maggie from Virginia

    The GOP is all over the place. I understand why McCain is acting erratic. The republicans are not unified like the democrates. Another area were Obama show's superior leadership.

    October 12, 2008 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  20. Sarah

    Ha, great closing argument. They should have made it months ago. This may help in the house and the senate but it won't work for the White House. John McCain has lost his last chance to become president, and possibly his honor as well, to an idiotic, hypocritical VP choice and an ugly and ridiculous campaign. I mean, what exactly is he saying here? Vote for me because the GOP sucks? The only thing that's dumber than that is calling Obama a terrorist when we're in the worst economic crisis of our times. Sure, crazies will come out of the woodwork to hear Palin spew racist and ridiculous lies, but it's not gonna attract middle of the road voters. McCain should just focus on losing honorably.

    October 12, 2008 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  21. JFK

    Yes we know the Republicans favorite word is DIVIDED! Division and fear tactics is all the Republicans can produce now. What a sad party that claims moral high ground and now we see it for exactly as it is. A party that gets nothing done, creates fear to push its policy through, and divides Americans so it does not have to produce any other significant progress all the while point fingers at the Dems! PATHETIC!

    They produce nothing but hypocritical politicians that claim morality while toe tapping their way through airport bathrooms. They build bridges to nowhere. They have outspent the Dems far more in the last 8 years and can no longer claim fiscal conservation. What more do you need to throw them all out of office.

    October 12, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
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