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. bco

    Talk about a crazy idea. Here we are with two wars at critical states, energy independence and climate change crises, and on top of that the worst economic emergency since the Depression.

    This is most certainly NOT a good time for a new administration to be crippled by an obstructionist Congress.

    The Republicans have shown us what they do as as an opposition party- the mirror image of their "nuclear option" majority years. This is the reason for the current image of the "do nothing" Congress- Republicans who value partisan obstructionism to bipartisan solutions.

    Let's not let the GOP continue to "play to its base" while Rome burns.

    October 12, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  2. kaz

    So John McCain can not come some thing on his record so people can vote for him. It is not going to work

    October 12, 2008 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  3. Peter T

    Gee...they just realize that....Republican had control of both Whitehouse and Congress before in early 2000 and in 2002 and they never care.... Actually, they celebrated their majority.

    Don't change the argument again, it is STILL the economy, STUPID!!! Focus!!!

    October 12, 2008 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  4. David in West Virginia

    FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, WE DON'T NEED AN IDIOT AND A SOCCER GURU AS PRESIDENT AND VICE-PRESIDENT AT A TIME OF CRISIS THE U.S. IS NOW FACING.

    October 12, 2008 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  5. Jen, California

    "MCKEATING5 AND MISS ALASKAN ANAL SPHINCTER ‘08 HAVE NOW BOTH BEEN CONVICTED OF ETHICS VIOLATIONS. NOW, I AM AS THRIFTY AS THE NEXT PERSON, BUT DO WE REALLY NEED TO BUY THIS 2 FOR 1!"

    ----------

    Whoever the above jerk is with his filthy no-name "name," constantly calling fellow Americans "Reptilians" - proves what a "great" American you are - NOT! And we should listen to what you have to say? NO! Crawl back under your rock! You disgust me !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 12, 2008 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  6. Mike

    Let's get the facts straight. The people of America were not safisfied with President Clinton and the Democratic led Congress. They elected a Republican led congress midway through Clinton's term. The "Contract with American" was formed. President Clinton worked with the Republican led congress which is why the economy became healthy. That's the facts. Just the facts.

    October 12, 2008 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  7. Marilyn

    The last time America voter for "The Uniter not The Divider" we got George Bush. Let's not be fooled again with this crap. Let's give the Democrats control of it all and hand them the biggest mess ever in history and see what they can do in 4 years. Sounds like an impossible task but the alternative scares the heck out of me. McCain and his bandits (sorry I meant mavericks) do not deserve the presidency, they have carried on as a lowly, desperate gang.

    I'll take the highroad and my chances with Obama/Biden.

    October 12, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  8. Peter (CA)

    Is Rick Davis really that dumb? Did Senator McCain consider resigning from the Senate when the Republicans had a majority there for President Bush? Give me a break!!

    The only progress we can make is President Obama and a Democratic congress. Every day I read about a change in the law courtesy of President Bush and the Republicans that makes it harder for anyone but the rich to have their voice heard in this country. Change must be made.

    And even if McCain was a better choice (which he was not), he threw it all away by choosing the most unqualified, polarizing running mate he could have chosen. You guys on this blog have all hit that right on the head.

    October 12, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  9. DAVID

    Palin was found Guilty of Abuse of Power Mccain/Palin can'nt be trusted to the White House We must help elect Obama/Biden so we can'nt relax we must work hard. We can'nt reward bad behavior such as Mccain/Palin. Sarah Palin will carry that same behavior to the white house Abuse of Power say No to Mccain/Palin

    October 12, 2008 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  10. tennisguypitt

    This is horrible, the gridlock may have been partially responsible for the state of the economy now.

    Nonpartisanship is the way to go now! These politicians would rather see the country go down the tube than lose an election. Pathetic.

    October 12, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  11. Gavin Ehringer

    The Neo-conservative Revolution is dying, and this is its last gasp. It's like a disease that has ruined America, and now it is arguing to stop the host from using antibiotics so that it can return, someday, to do more damage.

    October 12, 2008 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  12. salem

    Gee, this is tough....choose a DIVIDED OR UNITED?

    Choose Adversarial or Productive?

    Choose Four Years of Fighting or Four Years of Hope??

    Mccain's strategists think we are the stupidest morons on earth.

    mccain and palin--Going for a slogan instead of solutions every stumbling step of the way.

    apparently, John Mccain is highly allergic to the REAL ISSUES OF AMERICA.

    October 12, 2008 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  13. John McPalin

    You ALL forget one IMPORTANT thing. If you buy into this argument and vote for McCain and he doesn't survive the entire term....when Presidents Sarah Palin and Todd Palin push the button, will your vote keep you warm during the nuclear winter? Seriously ask yourself this question. What would happen with Sarah AND Todd running the White House?

    October 12, 2008 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  14. Dealt

    Oh dear... does anyone believe McCain would be pushing for a divided government if he weren't behind??? Like, "Please, my friends, the Senate is Republican so don't vote for me". I didn't hear that argument from "the Maverick" on any Republican campaign for the presidency when Dems didn't hold the Senate... It's sort of laughable, poor thing... No wonder he's being called erratic...

    October 12, 2008 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  15. Mike

    In other words, 4 more years of the last 8? No thanks. I saw how productive President Bush was w/ a Dem Congress.

    October 12, 2008 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  16. Trish

    Vote Democrate, to make sure me and my eight kids keep getting our welfare checks.

    October 12, 2008 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  17. DOLLORBIL

    HOW CAN ANYONE BELIEVE THIS BULL CRAP. THE DEMS. HAVE HAD A MAJORITY OK BUT TO RUN THE PLACE THEY NEED AT LEAST A 60-40 SPLIT WHICH THEY DO NOT HAVE. EVEN WHEN THEY PUT LEGISLATION IN PLAY WITHOUT A 60% MAJORITY THE IDIOT BUSH VETOS IT. SO IN REALITY THE REPUKS ARE STILL IN CONTROL. GOTCHA

    October 12, 2008 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  18. Old White Guy

    I think Rick Davis (the lobbiest) is a little confused kinda like his candidate. The republicans have held the White House these past two years and with the veto threat and filibuster the "republicans" have caused gridlock in Washington.

    So, if we want to free us Washington to actually get something done, then vote for a democrat for the White House and Congress.

    The economic mess we see ourselves in right now is a direct result of republican policy, we need change.

    October 12, 2008 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  19. max (NY)

    Let me ask McCain this question. What is best to have, a divided goverment or a violently divided nation? Regardless if the President is Rep. or Dem. and Congress is all Rep or Dem, The government will always be divided when it comes to decide about an issue that has do with the welfare of the country or the nation. Did all republicans vote the same way on the economic issue? Did all Democrats vote the same way? No. Therefore Jack, there has never been, isn't, and never will be such thing as a "unified government. You are a dreamer. Get real.

    October 12, 2008 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  20. rafael

    Dustin, you're an obvious Republican troll. No one who calls himself a liberal would vote for McCain. And beyond that, in Obama progressives have the opportunity of a generation–to elect someone with a healthy balance of progressive ideals and evidence-based realism (not to mention an uncanny knack of surrounding himself with good advisors). McCain is an obvious mess to any progressive, and you are transparent.

    October 12, 2008 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  21. Kate Fergus

    More smokescreens from the McCain campaign. They will stop at nothing to win this election. They have shown a complete lack of integrity and character throughout this campaign. They are shameless. AND they want the country to trust them in the most powerful position in the world!!!!

    God help American if McCain and Palin win. Hello third world status for the country.

    October 12, 2008 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  22. PCS / North Carolina

    McCain and his Klan rallys. Bunch of neocons (klansman), who will never vote for a half white candidate.

    October 12, 2008 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  23. Agnus

    McKeating & McCheating
    McArizona & McAlaska
    Retire & be a mom
    Don't put your kids in shame. No one like their parents to be racists. or perceived TO BE by all Americans.
    McCains fake personality nor your fake wig is going to last when and if you guys sit in the prison for sowing the seeds of racism in the country ( which would spread like a wide fire).

    We had enough of the last 8 years and certainly enough of these two baffoons.
    Vote Obama / Biden

    October 12, 2008 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  24. Conservative Change

    We need to toss ALL republicans out on their hatefull rears. We must send a clear message to them, that we will NEVER tolerate a campaign of such hate and divide again. They are now being so bold as to MARKET the notion of divide.

    No, I do not want a country divided. And if that means dividing the neo-con conservative hitler youth out of our country, then let's start shoveling!

    One House
    One Car
    One Spouse
    One Nation
    One Voice
    One Party

    Democrats unite, kick out the conservative scum that has brought our country to it's knees!

    October 12, 2008 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  25. Michael

    So NOW the Republicans want a divided government. Funny they we'ren't asking for that in 2004.

    October 12, 2008 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
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