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. Scott of Utah

    Nope. This is no excuse to let McCain slide into office. The presidential office is the MOST important for domestic and global politics, and the right person to fill that position is one of Intelligence, Honor, and Inspiring Leadership. That person is Barack Obama.

    October 12, 2008 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  2. Obama Mamma

    A divided government is a good thing? While Bush vetoed every good idea the Congress had, if the Reps in the House and Senate didn't block those ideas long enough.

    What we need is a Congress that is phlibuster-proof.

    Reading an article earlier that votes outside the swing states don't really matter. YES they do.

    Let's send a referendum to Washington – we are done with republican ideologies. let's put things in the hands of the Dems across the board. Your vote counts. The numbers of people voting helps. Your choice for your House seats, matters. We will never get anywhere unless we break down those barriers.

    October 12, 2008 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  3. Barbara - 65 yr old white female in NC

    Dustin – I think you are playing a dangerous game in your mind. You don't ever want to vote for a war monger or a hate monger.

    October 12, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  4. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis is dead wrong and has nothing to do with the economy, just attempting to spread fear. The Republican administration has been the worst in history and if Rick Davis wants to talk about fear then the fear is repeating the same. McCain and the Republican administration refuse to address the real issues, it's the economy.

    October 12, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  5. facts are facts

    Elect us to keep the parties divided regardless of how inept we are is just a little on the silly side isn't it?

    I am starting to feel sorry for John McCain as his political advisers have made an absolute fool of him from the start to the finish of this campaign. First pick Palin, then attack Obama with lies and fear and now forget about the McCain/Palin policies not being good for America elect us to stop the Democrats from fixing the country.

    October 12, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  6. Susan

    ENE DIAZ,
    What about GOP using foreclosure lists to prevent voters from voting?

    Everyone,
    PLEASE VOTE ON NOV 4th, No matter whom you support. Vote Early, if you are unsure abt Nov 4th.

    PLEASE VOTE.

    October 12, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  7. Robert

    The new smokescreen for McBush this week will be acorn. He will use this gimmick to draw simple minds away from the economic disaster we face and that he has no answer for. Look close at this acorn thing. Would an organization interested in vote fraud really turn in a bundle of voter registrations listing the Dallas Cowboys Football Team? Aw Come On !! A third grader would know better. This is a conspiracy. Acorn has been infiltrated and sabotaged from within. Mark my words. The Truth will come out.

    October 12, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  8. yingxue Zuo

    I can’t understand that when John McCain criticizes Obama’s judgment did not think about himself for picking up Sarah Pallin as running mate it is not just a bad judgment, irresponsible choice which potentially may jeopardize our national interests but also it is a big joke! Picking Pallin as Vice President Nominee it is a completely a joke for most people in the world except some of American republicans!
    Sarah Pallin is an ambitious person but her mind is empty and shallow. She is a true performer but the performance is extreme fake. The reason she has conservative idea because she did not really know the outside world and her mind is narrow; in fact she is an intellectually immature show girl.
    American should learn enough lessons from elected unqualified W. Bush as President for 8 years and the situation will even worse if Sarah Pallin become the President some day; it will be political, economical and military disaster for American.

    October 12, 2008 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  9. DeVone

    people for the people George Bush had a republican white house
    and a mixed house and he did what ever and every thing wrong
    so what you are realy say is can we trust a Black Man and a
    white Woman whom aer democrates so we should
    trust a White Man and a White Woman who are republican
    to run the white house people say the dornest things

    October 12, 2008 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  10. That one is Karl Marxs friend too

    FDR and his wisdom lengthened the depression with his tax and spend ways. H Obama will do the same with a dem controlled congress. God help us all.

    October 12, 2008 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  11. Joshua

    Unsurprisingly, George Will doesn't get it. Congress polls so low because Congress did not do what they were brought in to do – put a check on George W. Bush and end the Iraq War. Since 2006 we still have unprecedented spying, torture as official US policy, an endless Iraq war funded by blank checks from Congress, and now telecom immunity.

    I realize its hard for Washington insiders to understand, but Americans don't want telecom immunity, endless war in the Middle East, and torture as official policy. Pelosi and Reid are not popular with Americans because they kept all of these things going.

    October 12, 2008 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  12. prairieguy

    what, yet another erratic attempt to turn the page from the economy.

    I remember when Bushie and the Repubs controlled everything...i'll take the Dems!!!!

    October 12, 2008 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  13. Lone Wolf

    A Democratic Congress with a McCain Presidency = GRIDLOCK.

    A Democratic Congress with an Obama Presidency = PROGRESS

    You can't blame the Dems for the state of the country right now:

    The Repubs controlled Congress for 12 YEARS prior to the Dems gaining a majority, and had a Repub President to work with for 6 of the past 8 years. And, Bush himself has been President for the past 8 years. The result? Just take a look at the state of the country and the world-enough said!

    The Dems deserve a chance to control Congress and the White House. Right now they don't have 60 votes in the Senate to overcome Repub fillibusters or Bush's vetoes, so they can only do so much.

    Give them 60 in the Senate and a Dem Prez to work with, and this country will finally see some progress. If not, then the American people can vote them out. But at least give them a chance! After the past 8 years, we have nothing to lose!

    October 12, 2008 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  14. jg

    The republicans have lead this country down a disasterous road for the last 8 years, what more do you need to know in order to vote for a party that celebrates diversity , change, the future, hope, the arts progress , freedom, risk, stability and growth. Dont be afraid little ones, its a brighter tommorrow. Vote for Change and Change History. Thats what America is all about...

    October 12, 2008 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  15. for a future

    My vote is for a future, forward always

    McCain/Palin is for keeping it the same (with an extremley dangerous VP scenario)

    ObamaBiden is for the possibility to move closer to our god-given destiny

    Vote for possibility, Obama/Biden

    Everything to gain, nothing to lose.... that the Republicans havent lost for us and our kids already

    October 12, 2008 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  16. Bebe

    Is this the best they can come up with. Please give me a break!

    October 12, 2008 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  17. brian

    These are the same neocons who were ecstatic when the GOP was in charge of Congress and the White House from 2000-2006. More erratic, schizophrenic behavior from the same anti-regulation idiots who were cheerleaders for the other idiots who got us into this mess.

    October 12, 2008 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  18. Stan

    I didn't hear McCain making that argument in 2000 or 2004...

    Oh, it's not OK for DEMOCRATS to control 2 out of 3 branches of government – it's no problem if far right extremists hold all 3.

    Republican logic at its finest.

    October 12, 2008 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  19. Xavier, Washington DC

    He doesn't have the experience! Um, that's not it.
    He lacks the judgement! Um, that's not it.
    He's not mavericky enough! Um, that's not it.
    He's risky! Um, that's not it.
    OK, here it goes. He's actually a better candidate than I am and would probably do a better job than me but you can't risk having the same party control the white house and congress. Yeah, that's it. (Wow, this is just sad)

    October 12, 2008 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  20. White woman of 63 for Obama from Day 1.

    How much did Rick Davis make TOTALLY from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Is he still receiving checks from them? Rick Davis's
    are what is wrong with our financial deficiency along with Bush's
    "rich people" bonuses that the Republicans have turned a blind eye
    to!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Mc Cain should be horrified to think that his "legacy" in running his
    campaign will always be "remembered' in the people's hearts and
    in the HISTORY BOOKS. It is TOO LATE for MCCain to correct his
    and Palin's "race factor" bogus lies!!!!!

    White woman of 63 who wants to keep her S.S. benefits!!!! for Obama-Biden from DAY 1!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 12, 2008 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  21. BK

    We do not need more gridlock. Having a republican president would ensure nothing good gets done. Is this really the best they can come up with? Vote for our inferior candidate so that there will be gridlock?

    @ENE M DIAZ – You need to learn that people tend not to read things in ALL CAPS.

    October 12, 2008 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  22. Bella from Florida

    Heck no. We do not want the Democrats contolling anything. They have done plenty of harm especially having the Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker. She has divided Congress like I have never seen before.I am a Democrat now voting for Mccain. I do not care anymore about Parties they both are all the same as far as I am concerned . I want someone who has an honorable record in Congress and that is John Mccain. Obama has requested almost 1 billion dollars in earmarks. How can we trust him to stop the spending when he is the first spender.

    October 12, 2008 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  23. White woman of 63 for Obama from Day 1.

    How much did Rick Davis make TOTALLY from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Is he still receiving checks from them? Rick Davis's
    are what is wrong with our financial deficiency along with Bush's
    "rich people" bonuses that the Republicans have turned a blind eye
    to!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Mc Cain should be horrified to think that his "legacy" in running his
    campaign will always be "remembered' in the people's hearts and
    in the HISTORY BOOKS. It is TOO LATE for MCCain to correct his
    and Palin's "race factor" bogus lies!!!!!

    White woman of 63 who wants to keep her S.S. benefits!!!! for Obama-Biden from DAY 1!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 12, 2008 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  24. Low Congress Rating = Republican

    The Democrats may have a majority in Congress, but NOT a VOTING MAJORITY. Thus, the LOW RATING STILL EQUALS REPUBLICANS. Democrats cannot accomplish anything because the Republicans still block needed actions. Democrats need a voting majority so that we can finally get things resolved and move on important issues that are currently being stalled.

    October 12, 2008 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  25. Dan

    Actually, thats exactly what this country needs. Did everyone forget? It was Republicans who got us into this mess!

    October 12, 2008 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
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