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. Adam, Plano, TX

    congress and the white house run by democrats is what this country needs. having both run by republicans was garbage, absolute garbage, and this will give the democrats the chance to prove their true colors, if they screw it up, then there will be a chance of a 3rd party candidate arrising, if they do well, then it will seal the deal as the party for america.

    October 12, 2008 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  2. john for obama

    Desperation at its finest!! OBAMA HAS THIS THING LOCKED DOWN RICK!! all the lobbying in the world cannot stop the will of the American people.

    October 12, 2008 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  3. ENE M DIAZ

    WE CAN NOT GIVE , ACCORN MEMBERS PERMISSIONS TO COMMIT VOTE FRAUD, IDENTITY THEFT AND FORGERY. IMMEDIATELY ACTIONS TO ESTABLISH AND AVOID BRIBERY ON THE REGISTRATION OF FAKED APPLICATIONS. THERE IS NO DOUBTS THE ORGANIZED CRIME IS BEHIND GOING THROUGH OUR SERIOUS PROBLEMS OF UNEMPLOYMENTS, ECONOMIC FACTORS,AND POVERTY AND OTHERS RELIGIOUS CONNOTATIONS NATIONWIDE.////

    October 12, 2008 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  4. Juan Grain

    Yes this time we need a united government. NO MORE GRIDLOCK
    I am an independent, and ussually plit my ticket, but i have had it with the Republican party and the best thing that I can do to reform them is to vote solid blue and kick them out. Then the new messege is to the senate you have two years or you are next!

    October 12, 2008 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  5. Ryan

    Anyone who has no faith in either party should consider this. If Obama wins, he has complete control, and can pretty much do whatever he wants. McCain would be tempered with the Dem controlled congress.

    October 12, 2008 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  6. Independent for McCain

    As I have always said the US government needs a check and balance, if one party control the White House and Congress, it will be a blank check for that party, that is bad for the Country. White House should go to REPUBLICAN and Congress to DEMOCRATS

    October 12, 2008 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  7. Barbara - 65 yr old white female in NC

    More fear-mongering from the republicans. We're tired of it. 7 adults in my family will be voting Thursday, Oct. 16 for Barack Obama.

    There is just too much negative stuff coming out of the mouths of the republicans. They are playing to the less educated people, the ones who have missed or never had the opportunities some others had.

    This is not protecting the vulnerable – it's abusing the vulnerable. I have lost all respect for McCain, and I'll never forget it.

    October 12, 2008 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  8. Klans R Us


    Sounds like more Klan talking points where they want the Government to be divided.

    Looks like Schmidt's plan is working. McKlan is too stupid to realize he's running on the Klan ticket.

    October 12, 2008 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  9. FL 4 Obama

    A push for division from McCain as a Rovian sellout–imagine that. Eight is enough.

    Obama/Biden '08

    October 12, 2008 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  10. Tony

    Just what we need, more gridlock. Republicans had control of both branches for 6 years and caused all the problems we're facing today with their rubber stamping of everything Bush wanted. I think we need Democrats in charge so we can clean up their mess. Then they can stay in charge for a while while Republicans stand in the corner and think about what they've done.

    October 12, 2008 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  11. Floridafish

    "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.

    I'm not sure where this bozo lived when we were under Republican control from 2000-2006 but it must have been a different planet. The Republicans were trusted and look where it got us. Bwahahahaha and you're worried about a Democrat? I call that insane.

    October 12, 2008 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  12. ooouch!

    "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.

    ahhhh, wait didnt we have the Repubs for years as the majority of all branches of government until 2 years ago? perhaps it is going to take the Dems to be in charge to fix the mess the repubs have created in this country.

    October 12, 2008 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  13. J.C.

    I would feel more comfortable to have a Congress majority and a White House from different parties, if partisan politics is to be practiced.
    Without checks and balances, we will see the change you regret soon.
    I am not a strong supporter of either candidate. However, to avoid the magic-60 in the Senate, I may just vote for McCain to maintain the checks and balances we need in a democracy.

    October 12, 2008 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  14. sabuc for Obama

    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?

    This is the GOPs typical and desperate scare tactics! Little do they know that it is the American Public that has voted in and does want the Democrats in power!

    The one good thing is that the GOP is now realizing that Obama will win but has to revert to fear tactics against that inevitable outcome.

    October 12, 2008 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  15. Abby

    Desperate campaign trying new things every day. very moring a new ecnmic plan.lol. we dont need and erratic, unstable leadreship in a time like this. A knowledgeable, highly educated leader who is even tempered
    will do with a vp who will add to that knowledge.

    Obama-Biden 08!

    October 12, 2008 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  16. I Just Said Thanks, but No Thanks to Another 4 Years of g.o.p. corruption, arrogance and incompetence

    Yeah, let's have more "Gridlock". That will sure help to solve our economic problems.

    OB08
    GOTV

    October 12, 2008 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  17. Will

    Clutching at straws...

    October 12, 2008 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  18. JayInNewHampshire

    Another fear tactic. If the republicans did such a great job then their seats should not be in jeopardy in any case you would not vote for a president just because you don't want the democrats to hold both positions at least I would hope not. That is pretty shallow.

    October 12, 2008 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  19. Kim

    Divided we fail. United we stand. Obama and a Democrat controlled Congress will have the power needed to reverse eight years of damage and turn this economy around.

    October 12, 2008 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  20. The Cosmos & MCCAIN Rocks!!

    »WELL SAID,Rick Davis. Jonh "GREAT man" McCain=Our next President. Yes.

    October 12, 2008 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  21. Paul

    Plagues and biblical devastation? Isn't that what we've seen as a result of the when the GOP had control of both branches up until 2 years ago?

    Maybe giving the democrats a complete shot at things isn't such a bad idea at this point.

    October 12, 2008 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  22. One white republican who is fed up with the negativity of the McSame/Failin campaign and who has thrown his support to OBAMA/BIDEN

    McSame's ship is sinking. One more desperate message is being circulated to American voters who want to make a clean break from the past. But we have lost confidence in the ability of Republican politicians to keep America safe and prosperous. Time to make a clean sweep of the ones who got us in this mess. Our only hope is OBAMA/BIDEN.

    October 12, 2008 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  23. Drew

    of course he does! how else would he be able to "reach across the aisle?" oh well. obama will be president, so get used to it people!

    October 12, 2008 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  24. NOT THIS TIME

    DID YOU REPUBLICAN FORGET, THAT YOU HAVE BEEN IN CHARGE FOR THE PAST 8 YRS AND THAT THE DEM ONLY TOOK CONTROL OF THE HOUSE IN 2006, THE REASON NOTHING IS GETTING DONE IS BECAUSE GEORGE BUSH IS BUSY WITH HIS VETO PEN WHEN IT COMES TO THE DEMS, BUT NEVER VETO NOTHING IN THE PREVIOUS 6 YEARS, THUS LOOK WHERE WE ARE NOW. WE NEED CHANGE AND THE ONLY ONE THAT CAN BRING THAT IS OBAMA-BIDEN.

    October 12, 2008 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  25. Vic

    Early voting is the way to go.

    Registered Republican voted Obama/Biden 08

    October 12, 2008 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
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