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. Gary Chandler in Canada

    ACORN fraud is MYTH. Nobody can VOTE on those fake registrations without matching ID.

    October 12, 2008 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  2. Alimi

    In other words, McCain would rather sacrifice the interest of fellow Republicans to save his own political fortune. This is sad coming from someone part of whose self-acclaimed heroism is that as a prisoner of war, he rejected early release granted ahead of others who had been POW longer. Is this why some feel that the real story of the POW experience has not been fuly told? Talk of country first.

    October 12, 2008 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  3. White woman of 63 for Obama from Day 1.

    Rick Davis stole from the American Tax Payer thru receiving checks
    from Fannie May and Freddie Mac!!!! is RUNNING McCains-Palin's campaign.
    McCain should be horrified to think his presidential run will go down
    in people's minds as "racist" by calling names to Obama. Shame on
    you, John McCain.

    October 12, 2008 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  4. Bella from Florida

    I voted for President Clinton and Kerry, but this time I can not cast my vote for something who has ties to ACORN,Ayers, Rev.Wright and the list goes on. We are going to have more headaches if Obama is elected that if Mccain is elected.

    October 12, 2008 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  5. TheTruthHurts

    Why not just tear the kitchen sink out of the wall and throw that in too?

    This is pathetic.

    October 12, 2008 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  6. kay

    Calvin Stephens, chairman of the African-American Republican Leadership Council in Texas, said that he's voting for Obama because this is a "black pride moment!"

    October 12, 2008 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  7. Cincy Nurse

    Well, fortunately for us in Ohio we've already had the option to vote via absentee ballot for our candidate. I did....and guess what. I am with Dustin all the way.

    Go McCain/Palin

    I saw 7 to 1 signs in my neighbor hood all for McCain/Palin and only 1 small teeny tiny sign for BO and Biden.....

    Not this time BO....not this time!

    Hillary in '12

    October 12, 2008 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  8. Farnk, Las Vegas

    McCain will say anything to get elected, for any reason, he doesn't care why he elected, just as long as he's elected. So much for country first, it's McCain first and then what ever happens to the country is completely secondary. I hear more and more talk about McCain is the real Manchurian Candidate. This would explain at lot of his tactics.

    Is John McCain the Real Manchurian Candidate?

    October 12, 2008 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  9. Winnie in Montana

    Typical Republican fear tactic. The fact is we cannot afford to have McCain at the helm and Palin one heartbeat away from the most important position in our government. She is unfit to lead us in a world economy or on the world political and diplomatic stage. Both of them, with their probable power to appoint justices to the Supreme Court can do irreparable harm to our nation. If you're mad because Hillary didn't win, think about the Supreme Court. If Hillary did get elected in 2012, it will be too late, justices sit for life.

    October 12, 2008 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  10. Obama Supporter

    This is hilarious! Scare tactics yet again. And now Acorn, I am sorry but why wasn't Bush investigated in 2000 and 2004 for voter fraud? After all his cousin was working for FOX and counting the votes and his brother was the governor of Florida and he won of course. So why is Acorn such a BIG problem now? Scare tactics to the fullest. And democrats are proven to do a better job than republicans. Their IQ is much higher and they know how to solve problems and not make them. So nobody should be buying this bull. We saw what happened with a republicans in office... 9/11, the biggest financial crisis, job losses, low incomes. So please give me a break!

    Republicans should just take some time off and come back when they are not so corrupted and change their wrecked policies!

    October 12, 2008 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  11. White woman of 63 for Obama from Day 1.

    ROVE=BUSH=Palin=McCain=Hannity=Limbaugh=Ann Coulter= Lieberman=Linsay Graham=Arlen Specter=NO GOOD

    Obama for taxing the RICH!!!! Yep! Tax them!!!! and let their money
    trickle down for a big change!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Obama Biden 2008

    October 12, 2008 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  12. James

    Didn't the Republicans control the White House, both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court for 6 of the last 8 years? I don't recall them complaining about undivided government then.

    October 12, 2008 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  13. White woman of 63 for Obama from Day 1.

    ROVE=BUSH=Palin=McCain=Hannity=Limbaugh=Ann Coulter= Lieberman=Linsay Graham=Arlen Specter=NO GOOD

    Yeah,Obama for taxing the RICH!!!! Yep! Tax them!!!! and let their money trickle down for a big change!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! TAX WAL MART!
    who receives BILLIONS of TAX CUTS and pays the measly minumum wage. Profits=Billlions per month!
    Obama Biden 2008

    October 12, 2008 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  14. Hillary then McCain

    Why blame it all on McCain? Why not blame Obama? he didn't do the divide in person but he pay his fans to do it. Acorn fraud votes, people booed and rage at McCain's campaigned.

    October 12, 2008 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  15. Katran Miller

    So much for the "Maverick" - "vote for me so we can have status quo and gridlock in Washington again"! Besides, then he can blame his failures on Congress if anything isn't working– another familiar pattern!

    October 12, 2008 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  16. S. Boatman Warrensburg, Mo.

    I Choose A Solid Goverment With Obama Over A Divided One With Mccain!

    October 12, 2008 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  17. Eugene

    Hey, we've had not only a government but a country divided against itself and its own best interests for decades. How about a country that includes red and blue opinion but really makes headway in peace, economic stability, environmental sanity.

    October 12, 2008 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  18. Betty

    More of the republican us and them division politics....

    October 12, 2008 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  19. Joe

    Some Democratic Senators are pushing for 550,000 additional permanent foreign worker visas. With so many unemployed Americans looking for jobs, this seems like a stab in the back.
    During a speech before a Hispanic caucus at the Democratic National Convention in Denver Michelle Obama, said her husband would attempt to grant amnesty to every illegal alien in the United States.
    I see why so many welfare people vote Democrate, they want to make sure they get something for nothing.

    October 12, 2008 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  20. jayeandvic

    How far will McCain and Palin go to win the White House.... I expect something really bad to happen just before the election. They're getting plenty of help from the Bush Administration, and we know Bush will stop at nothing to get what he wants. And whats worse is that the press will allow it to happen.

    October 12, 2008 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  21. Rob indetroit

    The whole Acorn thing is a Fraud to distract people ,hellow you must have I.D to vote , unless you ask for a provisional ballot.

    October 12, 2008 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  22. zoltan

    So, has George Will called for divided government when a republican sits in the oval office, or does it only makes sense to him as a closing argument for a republican campaign headed to almost certain defeat?

    October 12, 2008 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  23. Ann

    Can anyone tell me why people in this country have to register to vote? Isn't it a right? In my home country no one registers to vote. As a resident (over 18 and a national) you pay local tax based on your address and this is the voter list.

    October 12, 2008 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  24. Kathy in CT

    Now THIS is a compelling argument.

    Vote for McCain because we the GOP have screwed up the country so badly that we're going to lose the House and the Senate. So put a really flawed president and a scary VP choice in there because . . . . . we'll have an ugly divided government that won't be able to get anything done and the country will fall apart.

    This bizarre logic only works if they can get people to believe that there is ANY reason to have ANYONE from the GOP party who have taken the American economy down disaster lane - involved in government.

    How stupid do they think American voters are??

    October 12, 2008 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  25. Watermann

    The actual republican campaign and their arguments makes me think about the health of Barack Obama in the weeks to come until election or any other unexpected action which might come along.

    October 12, 2008 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
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