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. fed up

    HELL YES! Give me a house, senate and administration full of Democrats. No more of the Republicans ruining our country! I can still hear McCain's cries of "DEREGULATION"! Thanks alot for putting us on the brink of another depression. I don't care what Acorn people have done. Think here for a moment – these people are paid to get new voter registrations, they are not paid by the hour. I'm sure that many of them were looking to get paid enough to buy groceries, etc. My question is, what about the other 55% or more that are true new registers. Don't they count?

    October 12, 2008 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  2. Mark

    I love the smell of desperation in the morning!

    October 12, 2008 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  3. josephine

    There is obviously danger in having the legislative and executive branch come from one party but on the same note a divided government also could have the same pitfalls. Just look at what happened the last two years. Legislative to the dems, Executive to the Reps, results zero, nothing, nada. Now both those branches have the lowest approval rating in a while.

    October 12, 2008 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  4. Marc

    Please remember that the Democrats do want Gov't intervention and the Republicans rely on the market. Well.........due to Republicans hard push for de-regulation, the market took a tank and also our 401k. Now, the Republican leading runner for the White House is sounding more like a Democrat, pushing for more gov't intervention. I think it is time we vote for Obama. At least he has been honest and more Presidential.

    October 12, 2008 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  5. Lurn_Me

    forget the party politics. at this point in american history we should rise above all that and vote for the candidate who will lead us out of the mess that BOTH parties have put us in. the republicans have steered our economy to this crisis, but the democrats failed to unify themselves to make any sort of impact to keep the republicans in check.

    personally, i think the republicans are showing definite signs of DESPERATION by appealing to people's ignorance with the divided government argument (another case of FEAR-MONGERING).

    i really hope american voters are smarter than they think we are.

    October 12, 2008 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  6. mam

    go obama

    October 12, 2008 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  7. AdamW

    Let's get the facts straight.

    It's hard for the Dems to get anything done when they have to work with the Bush administration that will only do things their way.

    Let's get Obama in office and we will see a lot of positive things happening.

    October 12, 2008 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  8. mohmmad

    I THINK JOHN MACAIN ABOUT TALK TO PEOPLE
    HE LIES LOTS ALL TIME
    HE WILL NOT WIN THIS YEAR OH OK
    HE LIES TO PEOPLE OH OK

    October 12, 2008 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  9. Kraye

    McCain MUST be President. This is an excellent point that has been made, not to mention that Obama needs to learn much, much more.
    Also, we don't know enough about him is not good.

    What we DO KNOW is SCARY!!!!!! It is frightening!!! It is TERRIBLE.
    If you want a Democrat, please wait for someone who doesn't carry so much uncertainty and fear. I voted for Hillary in the primary, but NEVER Obama. I wouldn't have him pull the weeds in my yard.

    Elect John McCain this year.

    McCain 2008!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 12, 2008 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  10. JK Ashburn, VA

    Yes!!! We need someone to keep those criminals like Pelosi, Reid, Frank and Dodd in check. Without someone wielding the veto pen they'll move beyond spending our grandchildren's money into spending our great grandchildren's money.

    Neither McCain nor Obama have proven to be qualified to be president. Gridlock may be the only thing to save us from those clowns in Congress.

    October 12, 2008 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  11. Kris K in CA

    McCain is pushing for a divide in our nation between conservative whites and the rest of the country.It is not a sound stategy.
    America must be unified and strong. Unity of purpose is necessary if we want to get out of this risky business.Bringing emotional misstatements to the forefront to secure votes is an ugly and self defeating tactic.McCain's campaign strategy is bringing our country down.

    October 12, 2008 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  12. Aryton

    The Republicans were never worried about that in 2000. If it wasn't for one Senator changing sides, They would have gotten exactly what they wanted. It's Bad enough Congress rolled over for GWB anyway, And he got what he asked for anyhow. Republicans are mad now because they lost there chance at changing the Supreme Court make-up and All there little 'Culture Dreams' are now put on hold, When it looked so good after 2004.

    If anyone thinks this Isn't the real, Underlying issue for this last-ditched, lame aurgument is kidding themselves.

    October 12, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  13. barbara campbell

    Speaking of George Will, THIS month he has written articles critical of McCain and supportive of Senator Obama.

    October 12, 2008 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  14. The Cosmos & MCCAIN Rocks!!

    »Americans!»Are you 100% Sure you REALLY want a new AMERICAN President with a ARABIC(!) NAME(!)?!???!Are we now in Indonesia or are we STILL in USAMERICA?!?!?!?

    October 12, 2008 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  15. The Cosmos & MCCAIN Rocks!!

    »WAKE UP REPUBLICANS!!

    October 12, 2008 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  16. Saundra

    With the way our great country is going, I'd be happy to see all democrats in office for the next 8 years. At least they care about the little people.
    Obama/Biden 08/12

    October 12, 2008 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  17. ral-OH

    Good gosh, if that just the silliness of the out of touch McCain
    once again.

    Their suggestion is just laughable.
    Their campaign managers are just grasping at straws.

    Barack Obama – and dear Joe Biden 2008 by a landside.

    October 12, 2008 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  18. Uncle Sam

    John McCain has a record of reform.
    Why would anyone believe Sen. Obama's promises of change when he has never demonstrated it during his career?

    Americans for McCain '08

    October 12, 2008 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  19. FLA FOR MC CAIN

    Democrats should think twice before voting for Obama's changes.
    In 1958-59 Castro promised changes and they had it...for the worse.
    Do Americans want 50 year of total control of goverment? More taxes? More illegal alliens??..... Think with your head and don't let empty promises influence your vote. Mc Cain/ Palin is th solution.

    October 12, 2008 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  20. mb

    Pawlenty, graham and rick all looked mad on the Sunday talk shows today. Is pawlenty and graham running for re-election? I know rick davis isn't he is still collecting money from wall street.

    October 12, 2008 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  21. marianna

    What else to say, McCain/Biden '08

    October 12, 2008 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  22. Voice of Reason

    Obama is un-tried, un-tested and still wet behind the ears. His relationships with the anti-white, anti semite Jeremiah Wright, with the anti-American terrorists William Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn and with the convicted felon deal-maker Tony Rezko among others only demonstrate Obama’s amazing ability to talk out of both sides of his mouth. How does he explain such colossal lapses in judgement? He “wasn’t aware” that these people were who they were. Amazing! The rest of us knew who they were and what they stood for. Only the naive Obama had no clue.
    If elected Obama will make changes alright. But none of us, not even his most fawning fans will be happy with them. It’s time to come down to earth and consider what’s best for this country and for our children’s future. And Obama the man-child isn’t the solution.

    October 12, 2008 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  23. Rai

    It will be a great disaster for Obama Reid and Pelosi to be at the helm of the American affairs. Within 2years of their government, the same American people who voted them there will be the first hold their heads in their hands weeping. These guys are just there in name, but absent in action.

    Obama will be an on-the-job-trainee, and Americans don't need that. Let us eb wise, and not be moved by what we hear, or see or feel.

    October 12, 2008 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  24. Desmond Sequeira

    This closing argument is a LOSING argument. Is McSame begging to be elected, now?

    Obama/Biden = INTEGRITY, INTELLIGENCE, HIGH COMPETENCE, HOPE ALL THE WAY. The USA and the world needs this ticket to govern from the White House. The alternative is unmitigated dishonest, nasty disaster. CLEAR AS CRYSTAL. Be ruled by the facts and the HOPE. Not by the false fear

    October 12, 2008 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  25. DGee

    The divided government has sure served us well for the past two years hasn't it? (Sarcasm)

    Everybody complains about the fact that the Dems have not accomplished much since regaining control of the House and Senate in '06, but don't seem to understand the reason why. The president has threatened to veto pretty much everything they've tried to do. Of course, with such a small margin it very seldom gets that far anyway.

    October 12, 2008 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
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