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. bruja

    WHERE IS CAFFERTY? He's fans wanto to know!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 12, 2008 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  2. jagdish, Bellevue, WA

    great idea...things will get done.....CHANGE is in the air !!

    October 12, 2008 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  3. cantafford

    just watched another video on cnn that showed a couple who have a mortgage and had started out paying 7+% then 2 yres later it jumped to 11+% They both work and are going broke. They said it was never fully explained to them otherwise they would not have done it.

    McCain's idea of helping these people would be good for the recovery of our country. Look it keeps people in their homes, it circulates money, it is good. Ok the fat cats won't get rich quick. But the good citizens will have a chance to recovery and keep a roof over their heads.

    McCain also said he and Palin would clean up Washington. I believe you will see those people responsible for these predatory practices come to justice.

    October 12, 2008 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  4. king

    I feel that what a man or woman did when I was 8 and was quited of charges have to do with this election. People think that Obama had something to do with it. What Palin did was wrong she started a hate and agree crowed by what she said. Their are people who just do not like blacks and will harm them. What she said put a family with small children in danger. I am a Dem. but I do not listen to one side and the Rep. party is trying to divide blacks and white. When I seen the McCain rally I felt that we a judging people by the religous, and color and with so much hate in the world that was the wrong, very wrong of the Rep. party.

    October 12, 2008 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  5. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    What a stupid comment.... how have we fared with the GOP in charge for the last 8 years? we're in the toilet!

    Even with a Dem Congress, stupid Bush continued to block everything.

    October 12, 2008 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  6. Ron, NYC

    Didn't the republicans have all three branches for most of the last eight years? Remember the Democrats only took control of congress in January 2007. Spurious argument once again from the MCcain campaign.

    October 12, 2008 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  7. edster

    As a Republican for over thirty years (yeah, since I registered to vote), I cannot in good conscience vote for the likes of McCain. Used to have great respect for him, but after this campaign, he has truly shown he's not the man he used to be (or let folks believe he is).

    And after watching the Fox News show this a.m., I could not possibly vote Republican, especially listening to Rick Davis. He was inordinately rude and consistently tried to talk over David Axelrod. Any campaign managed by Davis will guarantee a Democratic vote from me. Wall Street may like gridlock in government, but look at where Wall Street is now. I agree with "Lone Wolf" and would much rather see progress over gridlock. Eight years of Republicans in the White House has been eight years too many.

    October 12, 2008 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  8. AmericanPie

    Are they kidding!
    Are they saying it is okay if the party in charge is the GOP
    But if it is the Democrats that are in charge it won't work
    Trust me more gridlock is not an option
    WE THE PEOPLE NEED A GOVERNMENT THAT WORKS
    NOT ONE WHO WORKS THEIR OWN AGENDA

    October 12, 2008 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  9. Robert

    An election so Close, so Tense, and so Critical.
    America is in the worst economic crises of our generation and is only getting worse. I Pray the Voters will listen to the economic experts as to what must be done. No not the Republican Corporate CEO's that got us here. But the neutral experts who have proved their knowledge over the years like Buffet and Soros. These economic Geniuses all support Obama even though they know he will raise their taxes. They support Obama because he understands the problem and will turn the economy around. McCain on the other hand has already promised to continue the same economic mistakes that brought us to this crises point.

    October 12, 2008 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  10. Crispus

    They will come up with ANY reason not to vote for the black guy....

    October 12, 2008 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  11. James, Ho. TX

    I hear Tell, Teddy Roosevelt was thiking about re-incarnating so as to Lead the G.O.P. Out of Iraq, Bank Bail Outs, Ride Out and Capture Osama, Drop Palin, from the Ticket and find a Nice Rest Home for McCain and G.W.; You don't have to be Mean to Go Green !

    October 12, 2008 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  12. God fearing Voter

    Well,well,well...They seemed to love it when the re'lics had it for so-o-o-o-o l-o-o-o-n-n-g. Maybe that's what we need to get something done now. It's not "divided", it's called gridlock and filibustering which will get nothing done.

    October 12, 2008 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  13. Mark

    The republicans had total control for several years and THAT was a total failure BECAUSE it was Bush and the know nothing republicans in control. Give me somebody with brain synapses still firing such as Obama and I will give him the opportunity to show the republican party that good government can still be had by voting straight ticket democrat.

    October 12, 2008 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  14. justobserve

    In the time of big upheaval, we need majority of both Houses to implement the change we need. Don't bluff voters into thinking that they need to vote for different parties in the Houses. That is the losing tactics of the desperates. Voters knew very well when you have good people and good policies, you need a strong government to do anything that needed. The two parties only wreck the chance for the fundamental changes we need. McCAIN-2008 AND SARAH & TODD PALIN: ETHICS VIOLATORS, POWER ABUSERS AND LIARS WHO WRECK THE REPUBLICAN PARTY.

    October 12, 2008 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  15. Patricia in Las Vegas

    you know the Republicans are starting to remind me of Chicken Little.... you know 'the sky is falling' the sky is falling' .... you all rant and rave about something that is either not true or has been blown out of proportion. You Ene are a perfect example of this. I am voting for Obama because I care about the issues, not a person's skin color or their religion.

    October 12, 2008 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  16. Deborah

    McCain/Palin are polarizing and they are stirring up a mob in their rallies. They are divisive, cunning, and untruthful. Pain has abused her authority in Alaska by giving her husband access that she shouldn't have given him. Yet, she claims that she did nothing wrong. She cannot be trusted. Palin is a pitbull in every negative sense of the word. She is ignorant and not fit to be VP. McCain gambles with our nation, and with our social security.

    America needs Obama/Biden

    October 12, 2008 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  17. stryker

    Time to round up all GOP pols and have 'em do a long walk off of a short pier somewhere while we still have a country left.

    October 12, 2008 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  18. Richard Brodie

    An Obama presidency by itself would spell the end of America as we have known it. Imagine the Supreme Court Justices he would appoint!

    And with a totally unchecked Democratic Congress, we would most certainly be looking at the first time in history when one of the First Ten Amendments will be repealed, namely the Second which has up until now protected our Right to Bear Arms.

    October 12, 2008 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  19. Julia Nini

    I am afraid of the democrats taking over everything. Mccain is a honest man and there are a lot of weird stuffs around Obama. Obama is hiding behind his skin color when he would not clearly answer legitime questions about his tie with the Ayers, ACORN Tony Rezko, his position about religion and abortion. Obama: it doesn´t matter is you are white, yellow, black, green and whatever skin color just ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS! I will vote McCain because he is the REAL DEAL... Latinos for Mccain-Palin 08 I Love USA !

    October 12, 2008 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  20. Another grumpy old white woman for Obama

    United we stand, divided we fall.
    "We've fallen and we can't get up."
    The Christian right is the American Al Qaeda. They have become what they despise.
    Religious terrorists, intolerant of anybody who doesn't walk in lock step with them.
    Precisely the reason I renounced organized religion.

    October 12, 2008 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  21. David

    Let's see. McCain wants Nineties style gridlock. These guys are real geniuses (note sarcasm).

    October 12, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  22. liz

    Oh I see, when the REPUBLICANS had the house AND white house everything was great (despite it starting the complete implosion of the economy and a starting a baseless war) but if it is the Democrats there is a problem?

    Do you really think the Democrats could do WORSE than teh Republican have already done? Please tell me HOW? Would they have the gall to give us our rights back? Would they treat women and immigrants like HUMANS BEINGS?

    October 12, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  23. djak

    We spent six years with a Republican president and predominately Republican Congress and look what happened! It's time for Dems to get in there and clean up. If Republicans try for even one minute to blame the current economical mess on Dem's because they've been in control the past two years, all I can say is it took more than two years to make the mess, it will take more than two years to it clean up. Having a country so deeply divided is not the way to run the UNITED states!

    October 12, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  24. jacqueline

    Obama is right, Change begins with us. We need to choose change and we need to believe/know that unless we actively participate in our Government, our Government is not going to pay attention. We need to stay on our Congressmen, Senators, and our President and constantly write/call/e-mail, regularly to keep them informed how WE FEEL they are doing and what WE WANT for our nation.

    October 12, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  25. Ork

    Wow, I thought McCain was against toucher, then why is he abusing sense and logic.

    October 12, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
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