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. Perusing-through

    ONE BIG PROBLEM WITH THAT STRATEGY IS: > > "SARAH PALIN"

    If Sarah Palin was more like a Bay Buchanan or Mitt Romney, then that may hold water. But in the eyes of INDEPENDENTS, Sarah Palin is glaringly close to a single heartbeat from Commander-in-Chief and President of the United States; and with her: (1.) extreme views, (2.) negative (Separatist) baggage, (3.) and her "NOT READY FOR PRIMETIME" judgment; this effectively crushes any INDEPENDENTS ability to see a vote for McCain as a way to balance the government.

    In short, the risk of having Sarah Palin anywhere near the seat of POTUS is just not acceptable!

    October 12, 2008 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  2. JJ

    Now that the Republicanssee they have little chance of winning the White House they are hoping to still have a chance to keep their power with the call to "Divide and Conquer!" There's another saying that you should keep in mind, "United we stand, Divided we fall."

    October 12, 2008 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  3. John

    When George Will seriously wants to make the argument that the idea of divided government will appeal to the people he is making the claim that people's fear of government will overpower their fear of economic collapse. George: This is foolish given the economic reality and Obama's perfect intellectual storm. Democracy's major strength's is its ability to adapt quickly. Though I know you are afraid of it because you do not trust the people.

    October 12, 2008 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  4. Hanson in Port Harcourt, Nigeria

    THIS IS A BASELESS ARGUMENT TO WANT TO HAVE SOMEBODY LIKE PALIN HEARTBEAT AWAY FROM THE PRESIDENCY. ANYWAY, NO ADO ABOUT NOTHING, BARACK OBAMA HAS WON THIS ELECTION.

    October 12, 2008 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  5. Joe

    Anyone who says this thing about the Dems not getting anything done in Congress is just plain STUPID. What do you think?!?!?!? Bush, the most pathetic president in my lifetime, has been the leader of this country while the dems have had a majority in Congress for the past two years. What has been done the previous six years?!?!? Furthermore, with a dem President and Congress, Washington will finally be able to get things done instead of fight over bitter partisan disputes between the dem Congress and the Republican president (Bush doesn't deserve a capital P when I refer to him as president).

    October 12, 2008 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  6. Johanna111

    Kill. Destroy/. Hail Hitler! Who will grow the Hitler mustache first–McCain or Palin?

    October 12, 2008 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  7. Max

    McBush,
    Fool me once you're glaver, I won.
    Fool me twice I dont have a brain.
    But gess what? I have one.

    October 12, 2008 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  8. Larry

    McCain has ruined all chances of congress working with him.If he were to be President his own have been leaving his side and he would have a very tough time getting anything through congress even with republicans.He has committ political suicide with his campagin of erratic and hate, and then there is Palin.The only chance for a President that will be able to work with congress is with Obama and McCain did this to himself when he sold is soul and party to the devil for his personal gains.You can guarantee Obama will want some republicans in high office to share the burden of enormous work ahead to rebuild what is a disaster in congress and the economy.There will be republicans that will work with Obama and start to heal the country and congress.

    October 12, 2008 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  9. David G.,

    McCain prefers a divided country over divided government. D.

    October 12, 2008 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  10. Paul, NY

    ACORN is a NO STORY!!

    Nobody can vote without matching ID.. How are people who dont even exist supposed to vote?? Stupid!

    October 12, 2008 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  11. Mike, TX

    Would I like a divided government? Yes. Would I vote for McCain for that reason? Heck no. Given the power the executive branch has in directing US foreign policy, I think having McCain at the helm would do more damage than having a government completely controlled by democrats. Congressional elections happen every two years, I wouldn't be surprised if the democrats lose control of the house in 2010.

    October 12, 2008 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  12. Desmond Sequeira

    This closing argument is a LOSING ARGUMENT!

    Obama/Biden = INTEGRITY, INTELLIGENCE, HIGH COMPETENCE, HOPE ALL THE WAY. The USA and the world needs this ticket to govern from the White House. The alternative is unmitigated dishonest, nasty disaster. CLEAR AS CRYSTAL

    October 12, 2008 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  13. returntocommonsense

    Just what we need more of a divided government. If anything, the past two years should show us that the dividing the government between the two parties is not a good idea.

    October 12, 2008 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  14. TucsonKK

    REP. led by the Corruption and Lies that have almost completely destroyed this Country – YES give the other party full contrl and just maybe we can have an honest recovery.

    I want my Country back!
    I want Obama to lead us!

    October 12, 2008 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  15. mariel

    McCain's base's clan mentality should be a huge red flag to America. This is so many steps backwards – it's absurd – – – – – AND scary

    October 12, 2008 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  16. susan

    The lame-duck Congress will move ahead with stimulus programs to help ordinary people now and to give the next President a head start in solving our economic problems with a Democratic Congress.
    Since McCain and his 'impeachable' maverick soulmate could not control many of the Republicans in the bailout vote and have burned their hate-filled bridges with Democrats, what support do they expect for any of their secret plans (given they have offered none)?
    Why would anyone be stupid enough vote for them unless they wanted a totally dysfunctional government? Haven't we had that for eight years?
    We need to move on the economy NOW–not four years from now.

    October 12, 2008 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  17. R U for Real?

    At a McCain/Palin rally this morning an older white man was carrying a stuffed Curious George doll with an Obama sticker across the head. He was laughing saying" this is little Hussein". Once he realized he was being video taped he ran behind a child.

    This is the mentality of the GOP supporters, when confronted by losing the Presidency to a half-black man.

    It's pathetic but not surprising. I have experienced racism first hand. It started as young as 4 years old. It subsided considerably in the past 20 years or so, and I almost forgot how hateful and ignorant racists can be.

    This election has brought back horrible memories and reminded me of the raw hate that some white people have for others just because of the color of their skin.

    Then I have to read about how Blacks are really the racists and such because they support Obama (although Blacks always support Dems). It's pathetic. This man today was kind enough to show his bigotry to the world.

    The GOP is relying on racists this year, nothing more.

    The slam against McCain/Palin is around policy and competence (Palin).

    The slam on Obama is about character. Do you see the subtle difference?

    Although Palin's husband was a longtime member of a secessionist party and Palin attended their meetings and spoke at their rallies as late as 2004 – no one is questioning her patriotism.

    It seems to be a "true" American all you need is white skin.

    Obama winning will show the world that America truly is the land of opportunity, and the black man can be successful even if he can't run, jump, dance or sing.

    God bless Obama – keep him safe. And God Bless America.

    October 12, 2008 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  18. McWho??

    We Need Gridlock inorder to get America going in the right direction again?? That's a compelling argument being put forward that only gains traction among the DUNCE.

    October 12, 2008 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  19. MCKEATING5 AND MISS ALASKAN ANAL SPHINCTER ‘08 HAVE NOW BOTH BEEN CONVICTED OF ETHICS VIOLATIONS. NOW, I AM AS THRIFTY AS THE NEXT PERSON, BUT DO WE REALLY NEED TO BUY THIS 2 FOR 1!

    The Reptilians are angry because they claim the MSM is “ignoring” ACORN. Not true, the MSM is ignoring the ACORN issue because it is not relevant to the many issues facing the electorate.

    First, off VOTER FRAUD can only be claimed on or AFTER November 4th or after. Voter fraud is when a voter votes using a registration that was invalid. Such as presenting themselves as Tony Roma and allowed to vote under this registration. This is voter fraud and punishable by jail time if convicted.

    VOTER RESIGISTRATION FRAUD, is not a punishable crime. ACORN is responsible for doing “due diligence“ inspections to the registration forms. Many are flagged as invalid by ACORN. The LAW requires ALL registration forms be submitted to the state election board. The state election board is the ONLY entity RESPONSIBLE for validating the voter registration form prior to registering the voter.

    So, the Reptilians wish to spend their ever dwindling days discussing irrelevant issues to the mainstream voter, that is fine with this Obama supporter.

    So just keep doing what your doing, what do I know!

    October 12, 2008 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  20. Reese from NC

    I don't get their argument. We have had a divided government the last two years and very little has been accomplished. The six years prior to that were not divided and many things were accomplished. Unfortunately the people in charge made many poor decisions and the country is tanking in many ways because of it. Our government has proven to be totally incapable of being bipartisan. I put the blame squarely on the President of the United States. He sets the tone for how he wants his government run and Bush clearly wanted his way and his way only. The new President (OBAMA) will have a general direction he will want to lead the country and particular ways of doing that, but realizes that they can only be accomplished through compromise. Each side must give and take and find a middle ground. The leader must stand and tell them the shut up with the bickering and get the job done. If this is done the government will truely be representative of the all the people of this country, not just one party.

    October 12, 2008 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  21. John

    McCain – Keaton 5

    October 12, 2008 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  22. Atlanta Charlie

    The GOP sure didn't seem to think having control of the Executive and Legislative branches, as well as the Supreme Court, was a problem for the first 8 years of the Bush Administration. Now that their philosophies of deregulation and war have failed miserable at all levels, they want to say the same conditions are unacceptable for the other party.

    We do not need the partisan politics of the Republicans impeding the real change that Obama brings. Although the article speaks about an all democratic government under Clinton, let us not forget how stalemated the government became when the Republicans took control on Congress during the Clinton years. Our government needs to be able to make a lot of choices and a lot of changes over the next few years to fix the problems caused by years of Republican deregulation. They will not be able to do that with John McCain as president. McCain is an American hero and has his country at heart, but his policies, the policies of the Republican party and George Bush, will not fix the economic crisis we face today.

    October 12, 2008 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  23. Mia and Mike

    It figures. Divisiveness is a very unpleasant thing to want to start off a new election cycle on. As a nation, thanks to the Bush administration, we're already divided famongst many of our foreign counterparts, including strong, former allies. Might as well divide the nation from within too huh??? It's just unbelievable what they are brewing and spewing in the McCain Republican camps.

    October 12, 2008 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  24. NB

    What McCain is trying to do is divide the nation. He is trying everything
    race, religion. This is not good for America. He is more Scary than Bush and Cheny. Hope everybody will understand his tatics and stand united as a nation.

    October 12, 2008 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  25. Kim, Dallas, TX

    This is almost comical. Republicans got us into this mess due to corruption and greed ....and by their own words trying to use them against Democrats, but leaving things completely unchecked due to deregulation...and yet they want us to fear Democratic leadership. Go figure??? The last time we had complete Democratic leadership, our country was faring far better than what the Republicans are handing to whoever the next president is. Blaming anything on congress when the Democrats have just a one or two vote lead is purely pathetic. The Republicans have completely divided our country with partisanship agenda. There is no working together, we almost need to have one party dominate so anything gets done...and if it has to be Democratic leadership to get our country back on track, I am all for it.

    October 12, 2008 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
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