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. JayInNewHampshire

    Just remember a vote for McCain is a vote for Palin. Ouch!!!!

    October 12, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  2. Walt

    Ummm, frankly I wish we could send the whole lot of you home, republicans and democrats. However, I seem to recall that the republicans have recently controlled the executive branch, the legislative branch, and hell the judicial branch. What did they accomplish?

    I am not afraid of the democrats taking over everything, as someone said this weekend, "they can't do any worse." I am betting they will do a lot better. There is nowhere to go but up...

    October 12, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  3. Susan

    At least it won't be run by lobbyists such as yourself Mr. Davis. I find you to be one of the most despicable people on this earth. You have helped McCain lose his honor, his dignity and integrity. Go count your money from Fressie Mac and Fannie Mae, you little weasel!

    October 12, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  4. Joe- New orleans

    Great campaign. Vote for our party because we're losing power on every other level. I for one am willing to say that just because the stench of Republican failure is so strong in America right now we should not take it out on Obama. Why should we vote against Obama because Pelosi and Reid are in power. None if it makes any type of sense.

    I understand the goal is to avoid a completely democratic system but at this point it has to be better than gridlock and divided government. As an honest independent I literally cannot see one solitary reason to vote for a republican in any election right now. That truly is a shame but on education, social issues, the war, taxes and everything else I truly think a change of pace is needed.

    October 12, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  5. Mrs. Texas Teacher

    We have had a Republican Congress and a Republican President for 6 years. In last 2 years there has been a small majority of Democrats. But not enough to make a difference. Republicans have gotten us into this mess! They are NOT qualified to get us OUT!

    A Republican President even with a Democratic congress would still not make a difference! Bush has taken a lot of power for the Presidential branch, do NOT think for ONE MOMENT that McCain would not continue with the SAME policies.

    He is the same kind of man that Bush is... he believes in the SAME policies! It will take a Democratic President with a majority in Congress to get us out of this mess.

    Look at what happened with Clinton. He could have gotten a lot more done, if he had not had to battle a radical Republican Congress! Does NO ONE remember the WITCH HUNT they used agains Clinton? And still he almost healed this nation.

    Now we have Bush and Cheney who have taken us even farther down the road to destruction than Reagan and Bush, Sr. WAKE UP, AMerica! These people are evil.... and I do not say that LIGHTLY!

    There is something afoot with this Party now. The witch hunt with the Clintons. The witch hunt when Bush/Cheney ran. They appeal to the Radical Right who can be swayed away from what is for their best interests for the extreme religious beliefs! That plays right into the hands of these Republicans!

    Obama needs a Democratic Congress not to take over the government and raise taxes! But to get this country out of the mess THIS administration and the ones before them have gotten us into! This administration is run by BIG BUSINESS! A vote for McCain/Palin is a voted to see that BIG BUSINESS continues to RUN this country into the ground!

    October 12, 2008 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  6. ND Mom

    Yes and we did so well during the first six years of the Bush Reign that why not give the Congress or the Presidency to the Repubs. Think not. During the two years that the Dems had a slight majority, if you can call it that, the Repubs still had enough control to nix anything that they wanted. I'm all for giving the Dems a crack at fixing this mess. Clinton did.

    October 12, 2008 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  7. David

    Wait one moment! The republicans being in control for the last six years with GORGE W. BUSH in command of white house isn't dangerous? The current economic crisis is certainly NOT the fault of a congress that has only been in for two years. These people are delusional! They think that this culsterF@*$ of an administration bears no responsibility for our problems around the world and at home. NEWSFLASH!!!! They are exactly the reason our nation is in such a precarious position at home and abroad. They didn't invest in America when they had the chance to make a difference, pulled us into a war that has stretched our military paper thin, and managed to ostracize our partnerships with allies, and ignored direct diplomacy with our enemies. And for anyone who says talking to our enemies is a bad idea I will point out that the NORTH KOREANS have just agreed to allow full access to nuclear inspectors because of our aggressive diplomacy with them.

    October 12, 2008 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  8. Marcus

    "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?"

    Give me a break. Does anybody really believe the Democrats have been in charge these last two years? Look at the number of presidential vitos before and after the democrats gained seats in the last big election. Democrats have tried, but don't have the votes to change Bush's policies. This mess is all republican!

    October 12, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  9. nancy miller

    This argument about divided government doesn't hold water. If the GOP had held the Presidency and maintained control of Congress the full 8 yrs, God only knows how much worse this could be. It's only be the grace of God, and a Dem-controlled congress willing to say "no" to GW Bush, that we're not already in more wars and even more in debt as a nation. Six years of Bush getting whatever he wanted did nothing but run us into the ground. Will it be any better if it's a Dem Pres and Dem congress? I don't know, but it sure can't be any worse. I say we give it a try. It worked last time. Whatever else you believe about Bill Clinton, he left office with a very healthy surplus, jobs for everyone and an economy that was the polar opposite of what we have now.

    October 12, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  10. Lou R

    Sound to me to be a concession speech by McCain. Too easy to link himself to the failed Bush Presidency. Enough of their kind is more then enough!

    October 12, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  11. Ron from Baltimore

    Golly gee, ya know, I don' know... .... do we want to really let the Democrats run things? We might end up with a budget surplus, some peace in the land, widespread health coverage... .... ... really, then we'd have to start all over again.. .... ... I don't really .... that's maybe ... what the, y'know, terror people want. But we've got to reform the way senator McCain knows how... ... -– ..... - .._ ___ ... _–...............................

    October 12, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  12. Joe T.

    You really can't blame the right wing for their fear. Look what they and Bush did with a majority in Congress. Trying to spread their fear in desperation is a poor strategy that is an attempt to hide the inadequacy in policy and in candidates.

    October 12, 2008 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  13. Tony

    Regardless of which party has the majority in Congress, having the Executive branch held as the opposing party seems to work well at the Federal as well as the state level. Giving power to one party in both the Legislative and Executive branches is a recipe for abuse. At present, where we are leaning towards socialistic policies under the guise of "resolving the financial crisis", a "shared" government is most likely to produce the best solution without us nationalizing private businesses. The alternative is a "slippery slope", which may not offer a way back.

    October 12, 2008 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  14. Anna

    nice Smear, KlansRus.

    You appear to be the poster child of that trusted phrase, "It takes one to know one"

    October 12, 2008 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  15. dmw

    To have a bunch of liberal Democrats run the entire government (President and Congress) is asking only for trouble and so much spending that our heads will be spinning. Pelosi and Obama already wants to add another stimulus package for government work projects.

    We have already spent over 1 trillion dollars trying to help the markets, banks and the first stimulus package.

    I do not want a socialist society where all of the encouragement to work and make our own way is usurped by the government doing everything. I work hard and I can enough of my taxes already support a dsyfunctional federal government. We already have some degree of socialism for older people and poor people, enough already!!!!!

    October 12, 2008 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  16. Vic

    Early voting is the way to. Registered Republican voted Obama/Biden. I also voted democrats for the House and Senate. We had a Republican White house for eight years, and a Republican Congress for six years out of the past eight years. They did nothing. On the issue of abortion they always talk about, they did not have not one single bill on the issue Roe vs Wade when they had a Republican controlled White House and a Congress. These Republican bums are so fake. Early votine is the way to; I voted all Democrats.

    Registered Republican voted Obama/Biden 08

    October 12, 2008 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  17. Watching from not so far...

    Nice try. Seems to me that the Republicans did a bang up job when they controlled both. Move over... time to let the folks who understand the economy govern...

    October 12, 2008 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  18. Lou R

    Election fraud would take place at the time a person votes, not when a registration form is filled out.

    October 12, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  19. Amy, Kazoo

    interesting, you never heard a PEEP out of any member of the GOP regarding Americans feeling safe in times of hardship and uncertainty when the GOP had control of the government.

    where was their concern for Americans then? and how do they explain the mess they made under 6 years of their power?

    October 12, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  20. Annette

    It's amazing how there's two or more sets of standards. One for the media, one for the repubs and one for the demos. Bush 43, race to the white house and his legacy consist of ??
    – Two wars going on right now in Afghanistan and Iraq
    – The domestic and global economy in a downward spiral that effects us all.
    – No clear, innovative and comprehension energy policy going foward.
    – An unbalance, dismal, confuse state of affairs for our country on all fronts. All of this under the republican watch.

    October 12, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  21. Rob indetroit

    Why is this race so close, with all the mistake's John MCsenile is makeing, and all the hate,rage, &raceism he and MCpalin are generating. I guess alot of American's feel that way,atleast the one's,
    being polled.

    October 12, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  22. melissa ohio

    I belive that the Dem have the best ideas, so, I think that this will be great, finally being able to get something done!

    October 12, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  23. Klaus

    Hehe, I love the Republicans fake posting as Democrats. Sorry guys, nobody's buying it.

    October 12, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  24. john awol

    It is true we need a divied government to guaranty some check on executive excesses but should be a reason to handover power to mcaine. He need to proof that he has something to offer and that he has not been able to achieve

    October 12, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  25. ready for change

    AMERICA OUR ONLY HOPE IS OBAMA-BIDEN, MCCAIN COULD NOT RUN OUR GOVERNMENT, HE'D BE TOO BUSY GOING BEHIND PALIN TRYING TO CLEAN UP HER MESSES, HOW CAN SHE EVEN DARE SAY THAT SHE DIDN'T ABUSE HER POWER OF OFFICE, AN ALASKAN PANEL(HER OWN STATE) UNANIMOUSLY SAID THAT SHE DID, AND SHE WANTS US TO TRUST HER! I DON'T THINK SO !! IN CASE YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND PALIN ,UNANIMOUS MEANS ALL!

    October 12, 2008 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
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