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. judy mitchell

    thats what we have now and it sure as hell is not working!

    October 12, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  2. Frank Canada

    WOW!!! A campaign now asking to elect the Palin/McCain ticket to offset the public's choices for the Senate regardless of how inept or weak minded their candidacy may be. Do they really think Americans are that gullible and stupid?

    No ideas no direction take a gamble on the Palin/McCain ticket to stop the Congress from helping America.

    October 12, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  3. Greg, San Francisco, CA

    So after having the Republicans in charge of the Executive and Legislative branches from 2001-2006 they now decide that having one party control is a bad idea? Do they even know the meaning of hypocrisy?

    October 12, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  4. Felix

    1th. I am ready to lead, he is not (didn't work). 2th He is paling with terrorist (didn't work). Now, he is decent, but we need a dived government.. Keep trying McSame, you and Bush are a sad history.


    October 12, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  5. go away mongers- Ventura,CA

    We saw what happened when they (the gop) had a person in the Oval Office and a majority in Congress- We will be reeling because of that for some time- It's time for REAL CHANGE! The republicans had their chance and royally screwed it up.
    It's time for the Democratic Party to have our shot- It's time for CHANGE!

    October 12, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  6. bk

    I agree with a split government. No party should have full control without checks and balances.

    I also don't want any of my tax dollars going to Acorn. Obama campaign gave them $800,000 to commit fraud. This is an outrage. Obama eliminated his opponents in Chicago through voter registration. In the primarys there was fraud in the caucauses. Obama refused a revote in Michigan. Obama seems to have a real problem with our voting process. Chicago style politics should not be in our government.

    October 12, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  7. former republican for OBAMA

    didn't we have a republican president and dem. house

    October 12, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  8. Nadeem Salem

    As the news this week centered on the comments made at McCain and palin rallies, a serious concerns arises. People talk about not trusting Obama because he's a Muslim and an Arab. McCain steps and is congratulated for responding to one that Obama is a good man, etc.

    Does he insinuate that Arabs and Muslims are not good people and are not good Americans?

    Why is it so difficult for either candidate to challenge these comments by defending those Americans who are of Arab and Muslim descent?

    Muslims and Arabs of course are the new target. Those who may not vote for Obama because he's Black would dare not say this. In the laternative they make the excuse that they won't vote for him because he's Muslim or Arab. sadly they get away with it during those rallies, and in the media,

    I, as an American who happens to be Muslim and of Arab desent demand better of my candidates and the media. Is that too much to ask?

    October 12, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  9. Klaus

    Haha, what a bunch of losers. The reason people are voting Democratic is because they support the party's center-left agenda. And John McCain's final argument is going to be: "In these times of crisis, we need someone who can obstruct progress!" We've had divided government for the last two years with George W. Bush acting as an obstructionist lame duck. Now John McCain is calling for more of the same? How tone deaf is this guy?

    Sorry Pubs, go back and look at FDR's first 100 days. That's what this country needs and that's what they're going to vote for on 11/4/2008.

    October 12, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  10. Brian MacDougall

    Gee, that's funny. Rick Davis and George Will didn't seem to have a problem when the GOP controlled both branches of government. They weren't uneasy with a GOP chokehold on government process that got us to the sorry spot we're in today. Why on God's earth do they think it could be possibly worse if the Democrats get a shot at it?

    October 12, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  11. Georgia Gal

    Sorry no can do McCain. Although I plan to vote for Democrats in both my house district and in the senate race that is only because both incumbants are Republican and I've had it with Republicans across the board. That said, if had to choose between keeping those two offices Republicans or choosing a Republican President I'd choose to keep my House Representative and my Senator Republican. There is absolutely no way I would vote for McCain at this point in the game.

    October 12, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  12. maynard hopkins wi

    vote all incumbents out then try and get term limits. insult or do what ever is necessary to get the old timers out of Washington

    October 12, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  13. Lisa

    Please let McClain & Palin win this race!

    October 12, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  14. DOS

    Maybe if McCain had picked a moderate VP candiate this would be an option. As it stands, McCain is not only by far the lesser of the 2 presidential choices, Palin is an utterly unacceptable president-in-waiting.

    October 12, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  15. Dustin

    I think it's imperative that John McCain be elected for exactly this reason. I am a staunch liberal and even I know that it would not be good for the country to be so heavily controlled by Democrats. I might like it, but I think I'm mature enough to realize when compromises have to be made.

    It needs to be McCain this time...otherwise an even greater mess will ensue.

    Look at the history...When Bush had a Republican congress, it all went bad. Clinton's administration was much stronger when he had the check of the Republican congress. When he had his Democratic majority...it all went down hill yet again.

    Checks and balances are important. With a huge Democratic majority in Congress, we need John McCain to head the executive branch to keep the country safe and balanced.

    My two cents.

    Democrat for a Republican in 2008 (but never again)

    October 12, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |

    OH PLEASE!!! Republicans had control of the House, the Senate, and The White HOuse for 6 of the last 8 years!!! And look what happened! 9/11, Iraq, 10 trillion in debt, Katrina, Patriot Act, Alberto Gonzalez. Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Iran is stronger, Al Qaeda is stronger, Venezuela is stronger, Russia is stronger, China is stronger, N. Korea is stronger. Yea, I'd take Democrats in charge over Republicans in charge ANY DAY!

    October 12, 2008 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  17. Rick S

    I swear you guys and your acorn hating ways- do you not understand that anyone can register under any name to vote- but CAN they vote on election day- NO! If the name does not match- they can't vote- you repubs are idiots- I know you are clueless but Mickey Mouse and Daffy Duck can register to vote but can't actually cast a ballot- Idiots

    October 12, 2008 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  18. Tracy

    Funny, the Republicans didn't feel the same way when THEY controlled the Congress, House, AND the White House between 2000-2006. They want to point out the last TWO years of a Democratic-controlled legislature, when it's taken them SIX years to do the damage that's causing the banks to go under and the wars to rage without end in sight. They can blame the Democrats all they want, but most of the crazy stuff happened on THEIR watch. If McCain tries this tactic, he'll be chewed up for sure as a HYPOCRITE of the highest order.

    October 12, 2008 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  19. Joe in MN

    Undivided government is only bad when you have a republican government, like the era with Bush, and a Republican legislation.

    October 12, 2008 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  20. Kenneth "Voter" Rios

    Ene M Diaz, get over it. If the Republicans lose, it will be because the American people do not like how they have handled the nation for six out of the last eight years. ACORN is a red herring. The party simply helped to ruined the nation.

    October 12, 2008 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  21. Jackie Rawlings Riverside California

    Americans have watched for 8 years this country being destroyed and robbed by the Bush Administration. If John McCain wins we will see the end of the US as we know it. Americans right now are watching and doing nothing as the White House borrorws money we don't have and is closing any borrowing from those who have equity in their homes and even telling seniors to work longer. Yes and more will come as McCain will still the Bush course. So if Americans do support McCain those same Americans will be penniless and homeless. We have watched the McCain/Palin team lie and spread racism and hate as they campaign. The World is watching to but will exclude the US if McCain gets in office. This is what happens when a country doesn't educate the citizens and lies and propaganda are spread. McCain/Palin both have been charged with eithic violations true criminals running to take over the White House.

    October 12, 2008 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  22. Anna

    We do need balance in Government–agreed.
    The Bush Administration is partly, but not wholly, to blame for our economic crisis.
    There are plenty of Congressmembers whose hands are dirty in this mess too...Barney Franks (D) among them.

    That's why I like McCain and Palin. They have a career history of challenging corruption.

    Obama, even if their not his closest, chummiest, bosom buddy besteses, has a career history of consorting with really creepy people–grinning ear to ear and without apology.

    I would never expect McCain to shake hands with members of the Klan on camera or off and expect to get away with it.

    October 12, 2008 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  23. Ed in PA

    That should not determine who you vote for.

    October 12, 2008 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  24. Sarah who?

    Absolutely. I know we Americans can finally get something done.

    October 12, 2008 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  25. j

    I would prefer a more balanced government. Statistically the government performs better economically when there's a Democrat in the White House and a balanced legislature so I'd rather the Democrats maintain a slight advantage in both houses of the legislature but not an absolute majority, with Obama in the White House. Leave the Republicans with the ability to filibuster.

    October 12, 2008 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
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