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. California Platinum

    As a voter I see all Republican party candidates having an uphill battle in November. The last 8 years of reckless policies have caused our country's economy to implode. We are in 2 unpopular wars that are costing us billions of dollars we don't have and killing our children. The Republican Presidential campaign has dwindled to nothing more than fodder for the late night joke writers and reason for right wing nut job extremists who yearn for the days when KKK rallies to validated their hate.

    October 12, 2008 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  2. Palin 2012

    Looks to me it is time for the republican party to really look at itself and really find out what it wants to do..
    Time to open up eyes for the modern world and also see that America is more then just old white males...
    Time to bring new people to the table and cleanse the rotten ones out

    October 12, 2008 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  3. Ian M

    "We know you hate our party enough to kick us out of Congress in record numbers, but c'mon, do you really want the black guy in there too?"

    October 12, 2008 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  4. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia in CA

    Uhhh, you mean like we gave the Republican party the last two elections for president?

    October 12, 2008 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  5. Daniel - GA

    Maybe their low approval rating has something to do with having a poor excuse for a republican president in office. The same president who's been there for 8 years and only wants to react to the problems now that he's a lame duck.

    October 12, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  6. GeorgiaPeachforObama

    I'm sure the Republican running for House and Senate seats appreciate the attempts to sell them out.

    Here's a great strategy for both parties–run on the issues and may the best man win.

    October 12, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  7. independent in Texas

    tHE REPUBLICANS HAVE HAD CONTROL FOR 8 YEARS !!! we dont forget that ! I would now much rather have democrats in control for the next 8..If McCain really did have bi-partisian thoughts, he wouldnt be sabatouging his own partys chances of being able to do that in the new administrtation..even his own republican party is divided now..what does that tell you ? OBAMA does indeed appear to be more than willing to reach across party lines to do whats best for this country...McCain only wants to WIN, keep his party predominant ! thats NOT putting country 1st !
    OBAMA will win !!!!!!
    Texas for OBAMA

    October 12, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  8. Palin 2012


    and in 2000 and 2004 they worked for bush, so give it a break

    October 12, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  9. John

    McDesperate is running out of options. People don't want another 4 years of McSame. Give it up and go live in a retirement home.

    October 12, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  10. Lisa

    Americans don't like "divided government"! That's called "gridlock" and it's why we can't get anything done! Truly the last argument of the desperate! I get the feeling that some of these mentally challenged people think divided government equates to 'checks and balances'. But that is NOT what checks and balances is about. The framers of the Constitution weren't even thinking in terms of parties when they 'divided' the branches of government. God please let the next three weeks go fast. We can't take much more...

    Obama/Biden '08 AND a Democratic Congress (60+ Senate)!!!

    October 12, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  11. Amy

    That is a very poor argument in my opinion. Vote for me because my counterparts in races for the House and Senate aren't faring well? No, they aren't faring well because they are using similar arguments and are stuck with a very unpopular president and vice president.

    Oh and Gov Pawlenty (my governor), I disagree with your argument. Of course Pelosi and Reid are going to seem extreme when they are trying to save this country from George Bush and John McCain's failed policies. If you question the failure see our position in Iraq and our struggling economy!

    October 12, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  12. Abigail

    I believe MCCain will soon withdraw from OH, PA, FL, NC and NM. He has already done so in MI, MN, WI, Good luck Bushs' protege. I cannot wait to see the results on November 4th.

    October 12, 2008 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  13. StephenBleeds

    First...this appeal for divided government is hilarious. Are the Republicans always pushing for this even when they are expected to win it all? That would be a no. I think it is time to try letting the Dems have it all. First ,it could not possibly be worse and will probably better. Hopefully, someday, the party with 49 percent support will get 49% of the input. But the Repbulicans did not even come close to that during their solo performance as top dogs in both the Legislative and Executive branch. But, if Obama wins I hope he offers a real olive branch to the Elephants...after all' they do have long memories.

    October 12, 2008 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  14. interesting...

    Are you kidding? a deadlock between executive and legislative would be worse than an all republican government. I want all democrats in all branches to actually get something done

    October 12, 2008 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  15. Queen

    McCain's camp doesn't just want a divided government–they want a divided America. It's not going to work! Americans (most ) want better, we work to work together and judging from what the republicans have encourged throughout their campaign it won't happen under their ticket.

    October 12, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  16. Martin

    This is the most flamingly desperate and pathetic argument yet. THIS is the flaccid, milquetoast, "hail-mary" play that McCain is hobbling out as his swansong?

    Yes folks, the American People, in their prevailing wisdom, will, instead of electing a government that can actually ACCOMPLISH things and swiftly bring about the real change the nation needs and asking for, elect another divided government sure to continue the gridlocked stalemate that has worked SO well in the past.

    While I trust Obama's executive judgement much more than McCain's, I don't actually think that a McCain/Dem Majority situation would be a disaster– but keep in mind, what I DON'T trust is McCain's ability to live through the rigors of a full first term. PRESIDENT PALIN, folks. Think about it. Can you imagine a more locked-up government? Obama/Biden, or God forbid, Biden/Someone else, would govern with evenhandedness and judiciousness.

    The only color that matters to me is green ($$). Moderates for Obama/Biden.

    October 12, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  17. sandee in Portland

    This is exactly what's wrong with our country. None of them reach across the aisles. It's all about party agendas. If you have one party win the presidency and the other party controlling congress and the house, the people don't win. Nothing gets done. The President vetos anything he/she doesn't like and no one wins, especially not the American public.

    Get rid of the electorial votes, put term limits on congress and the senate so these politicians can't make a career out of it.

    I am so tired of watching our country go down the road to becoming a third world country. It's time for the American people to stand up to these politicians, no matter what party they belong to.

    October 12, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  18. (Former) Lifelong Republican for Obama, Columbia, TN

    This is an utterly ridiculous argument. Republicans have ran Congress and the White House for 8 years and nothing is better. If we have a Democratic President and a Democratically controlled Congress, then maybe some significant progress can be made in this nation.

    October 12, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  19. Shasta

    I didn't really want the Republicans controlling the Senate, the House, and the presidency for six of the last eight years, but they did. It's our turn.

    October 12, 2008 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  20. Tina in PA

    If everyone produces identification at the poll sites what really is the problem?

    October 12, 2008 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  21. John Kellermeyer

    With the Fifth World's appearance at our door now, the lowest of the low are fighting for one last chance to destroy what this country has achieved since its inception, long after it was prophesied as Merika millennia ago.

    My prayer is simple: that the American Taliban masquerading as (false) 'Christianity' in the United States, reap all they've sown in a karmic expression that exposes their lies and hypocrisies for all to see.

    My prayer is for the Truth, and that that Truth trump their false allegations for all time, and before it's too late for all of us.

    The meek shall inherit this earth?

    Then it won't be the American Taliban.

    It won't be any of you at all.

    John Kellermeyer

    October 12, 2008 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  22. Jeffer65

    It's probably a better idea than just attacking Obama's character, which is not working. He really needs to stick to central issues though, the economy, energy, healthcare.

    Having a president and Congress from the same party does not automatically mean the checks & balances are gone. Just look at Bush's $700B plan. Members of his own party voted against it the 1st time.

    October 12, 2008 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  23. Francheska Georgia

    This is just another attempt by McCain to scare people.

    October 12, 2008 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  24. John

    This is a horrible argument. Democrats have only had control of congress for the last two years. The first six years of Bush' presidency, republicans controlled the white house and congress. This cannot be a legitimate reason to want McCain in office.

    October 12, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  25. Mom in CA

    I was raised Republican and yet have spent the better parts of my life under Democratic administrations.

    The past 8 years are a direct reflection of Republican government...Their brand is now greed, corruption, dishonesty and they have spit in the faces of the American people. They are responsible for their losses..perhaps its time to eat some the crow they put out...they are truly a "group of whiners"

    October 12, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
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