The Case for Divided Government

Posted: October 13, 2008 in 2008 Elections

The McCain campaign has a new argument why you should vote for them:

Implying that the GOP won’t win back either the House or Senate, two McCain backers this morning sounded out a new talking point by raising the specter of Democrats in control of both the Congress and White House.

Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, posed it as a question.

“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?” Davis asked in an appearance opposite Obama adviser David Axelrod in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

In the show’s next segment, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a frequent McCain surrogate and vice presidential runner-up, fleshed out the argument.

“I don’t think the country is going to like the Democratic Party running the table on taxes, on education, on health care and have kind of the liberal, unchecked, imbalanced approach to all of those issues,” Pawlenty said. “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.”

Pawlenty added: “People like balance, especially in Minnesota.”

First, although it was a longshot to begin with, this is an explicit concession that the Republicans will not retake Congress this November. This is effectively a finger in the eye of the NRSC and the NRCC, whose jobs are to raise money and get Republicans elected to the Senate and House. Comments like these from McCain’s campaign manager and from a top surrogate are not going to be helpful when it comes to asking GOP donors for more money in the home stretch.

Second, the argument for divided government is valid because it forces compromise, especially if someone like McCain were president. The problem is that the GOP had the trifecta for most of the last 8 years and ran Washington with an iron fist. Remember President Bush’s mandate after being re-elected four years ago? How about Karl Rove’s dream of a permanent Republican majority?

Given the events of the last few years and a fundamental realignment of the American electorate, the Republican brand has become so damaged now, people are not going to be in a very forgiving mood. The divided government argument is going to go over like a lead balloon with voters at large and even more so with the Republican base.

Update: Vaughn Ververs has this note on how the divided government argument is making the rounds among McCain campaign operatives and conservative talking heads. His concluding assessment about its merits as a political tactic is blunt :

Unfortunately for Republicans, it’s not the kind of campaign theme that fits well on a bumper sticker. Stop A Democratic Majority, Vote McCain, isn’t a slogan that’s going to turn around the race. If that becomes the rallying cry, it’s an indication of just how narrow their window of opportunity has become.


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