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. Jen, Gainesville

    This is April Fool's argument. A divided government can not get anything done, though it may prevent mistakes by one party. With the right leadership, a united government can really get things done righfullly. If this is a good argument, oOur founding fathers would have designed the government so that it is always divided. Do some politiicans who are selling this argument think the American people are stupid?

    October 12, 2008 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  2. Tessa

    What a stupid Rovian argument. People remember full well how prosperous America was under a democratic president and congress from 1993 to 2000. The past 8 years are a direct result of a failed republican government. Sounds like the republicans are now desperately tossing up anything in hopes that it will stick. If McCain is such a maverick and supported this "idea", he of all people should've picked a moderate Democrat as his running mate. Republicans seriously need to examine their brand because it is obviously way out of touch with the majority of American people. We the People have had enough!!!!

    Obama/Biden '08

    October 12, 2008 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  3. David

    This is no time for a do-nothing government. This is no time for preserving the status quo or moving with timid steps.

    The reason for this mess is clear. Ever since Reagan, the push has been to give business more and more of what it wants, with the theory that they will then give the rest of us what we need. Well we've seen where that gets us–the rich get richer, the CEOs get golden parachutes and then, even after being bailed out by us, they take $400,000 retreats to spas.

    This is not the time for tepid responses or a "balanced" approach. Things are so out-of-whack compared to where they were in the 1950's, we need full-bore liberalism to restore some semblance of fairness.

    October 12, 2008 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  4. king

    Why are they upset about who is running the house and sen. The people who are running are the people that american has choosen. The Rep. party is upset because it is not the Rep. party that are in control. Tell them that america has spoken and that the Dec. is going to own both.

    October 12, 2008 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  5. AZ Senior

    I was surprised to learn that in the Senate it takes a 60-40 majority to enact a bill, instead of a simple majority of 51-49. Why is that?

    October 12, 2008 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  6. jose mendosa

    Can't we think? Didn't the Bush campaign use similar tactics to get McCain out of contention in 2000? Where did that lead us? And now McCain is doing worse things because he has said that his ambition is to become president? C'mon people, let's prove that we aren't stupid!

    October 12, 2008 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  7. vet for obama

    Divide, divide,divide, divide so the GOP can continue pushing through additions on bills so that wall street and lobbyists and corporations and defense industry and insurance companies and drug companies and ceo's and all the rich get more and more of the pie-

    nice try McWarrior, been there, done that.... 🙂

    October 12, 2008 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  8. james in s.c.

    i agree with ya, sarah palin is a religious right-wing nut job. she needs to go back to alaska and go hide in an igloo!!!

    October 12, 2008 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  9. Debby in Pennsylvania

    After 6 years where the Republicans controlled the Presidency and Congress, with only the last two a split, now they want it split. We need to have it the same for a few years to deal with this grid lock. The Dem Congress could not get anything done with Bush's veto power. People will be afraid that if McCain wins he will veto a Democratic congress' work same as Bush has done recently so this could backfire. Its always something new to "try and win". Why not stick to the issues and who can be a leader to unite us into the next century.

    October 12, 2008 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  10. cantafford

    I watched a video and it showed not all states require voter id when voting............then they said people voted in one state and then crossed the boarder and vote in their own state. This is not good.

    McCain/Palin 08

    October 12, 2008 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  11. European Expat

    Trying to repond to Ann's question regarding why voter registration is necessary...I´m not an elections expert, but unlike your experience there aren't local taxes in many US localities. Also, unlike in many European countries, Americans don't have to register with the local police, and are very mobile (it's quite easy to "disappear" in the US). So, requiring voter registration is about the only way to control voter fraud.

    October 12, 2008 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  12. Dan from Philly

    Well now that has got to be the LAMEST argument in the history of American politics. "We're getting our fanny kicked in the Congressional races, so pretty please give us the White House"?!?

    Wow. The stupidity of it takes your breath away.

    Obama/Biden '08!!!

    October 12, 2008 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  13. Kim

    Ene M Diaz & any other uninformed ACORN basher: it is the voter registration org's responsibility to register voters. It is the City/County Clerks responsibility to ensure the voters are eligible and follow election laws. If Voter Fraud occurs, the City/County Clerk who ran the election is to blame. Study local governement!

    This is an absurd last ditch attempt argument, that quite frankly makes me giggle at the thought of the GOP wiggling in their seats.

    October 12, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  14. susan

    To the clown condemning ACORN, learn how to spell it , learn English and learn the law.
    The law requires that any and all registration forms must be turned in to local officials even if they appear to be a joke or fraudulent.
    Only the local officials have the legal right and responsibility to refuse registration.
    Voter fraud is if those comedians turn up and try to vote.

    October 12, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  15. James From Chicago

    McCain has finally lost his mind.


    October 12, 2008 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  16. Mitch

    My question is this. How is the American public supposed to know who gets elected to Congress before they vote for president?

    This is the last gasp desperation.

    His arguments are...

    1. trust me as a maverick? Yeah, how about your economic twinning of bush? no? then...
    2. trust my decision making? yeah, picking a candidate under investigation shows more of the same old bush....no? then...
    3. don't trust my opponent because he's tied to a terrorist and likes the idea of abortion...no? then...
    4. pick me as an alternative to a democratic congress that may or may not be democratic.

    Next we should pick him because he has better halloween candy than obama.

    October 12, 2008 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  17. Alan

    It's funny how the Republicans are ALWAYS blaming past administrations for the problems THEY cause. It seems that things always take about eight or nine years to "take hold." That's why, after a Dem gets back in office and things improve, we ALWAYS hear that this is the actions of the Republicans in the past finally taking hold.

    When things are a horrific mess under Republican control, it's always the years-ago Dems who caused this and it's just now rearing its head.

    EXCEPT for the Dem congress this time around, which seems to have been granted by the Republicans nearly super-human powers to legislate the current mess we're in with LESS than two years to do it, a near even-split in the House and Senate and a President always holding the veto pen.


    October 12, 2008 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  18. Chris F.

    I don't remember the Repubs complaining when they had a mojority of the government. I think balance in the long run is the best but I cannot support McCAin because he decided to choose a Barbie Doll with a gun as his running mate. We cannot afford a possibility of her becoming President. Sarah Palin is an idiot just like George Bush. McCain had better choices and I get sick up people defending her because we as Americans deserve better.

    October 12, 2008 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  19. not that's some convoluted wishful thinking

    They've gone beyond grasping at straws: this GOP "argument" shows they are grasping at thin, thin air.

    You Repub folks are going down - and then you will get to reap the benefits of an Obama presidency. So you'll be okay, not to worry.

    October 12, 2008 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  20. jt from mi

    so let me get this straight – we should vote for the erratic man, knowing that the stress of the job is very high. so that he can die in office and leave us with that CRAZY WOMAN FROM ALASKA?
    the repugs have totally lost it on this last one.
    can you really imagine the destruction that an uneducated barbie and bearly a high school diploma dude with do?

    October 12, 2008 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  21. Dan

    Please. The GOP had control of all branches of gov't in 04-06. They have destroyed the country. Now they deserve to be politically irrelevant.

    October 12, 2008 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  22. Simmy

    As a self appointed surrogate for the Obama campaign, I'd like to say that misleading titles of articles, and misguided campaign staffers like Rick Davis and the others working for Sen McCain need to cease and desist in their feeble attempts to confuse and terrorize the minds of Americans! They also seem to want to say that they are for this country, and all of us that support Sen Obama are not. I advise all of you ill-advised supporters of McCain to read Chris Buckley's recent article explaining why he is supporting Sen Obama. Change is coming. It's good for all parties-stop fighting and embrace it.

    October 12, 2008 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  23. Kwade

    McSame in 2008 !!!!!

    I really really want to be eating spam for dinner for the next four years.

    We need change with a specific plan in place before he gets into the White House. The last eight years of being retroactive have screwed us enough.

    Obama/Biden 2008/2012 2016?

    October 12, 2008 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  24. Ross County, Ohio,

    80 years old White Lady from small town in ohio .. town There is no progressive talker right-wing talkers and hate radio all day. she ask obama one question ?... she asked him Who Are You??? Obama look in the eye .. and responded to.. I Am Your Son .don’t let them scare you” ...
    .She definately had tears in her eyes .she is voting for obama..

    Chillicothe ohio..The economy is Topic

    October 12, 2008 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  25. Mike-WA

    Don't worry America, the Christian Republican Church Party will domininate in the end. Their corruption is their strength.

    October 12, 2008 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
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