John Fund has a column today reassuring worried Republicans that all is not lost and that it's not 100 percent certain John McCain will lose in November. And he makes a number of smart points as to why that's the case (although I'm not sure anyone really thinks McCain is doomed at this point, so he's battling a bit of a strawman). But, in drawing on lessons from past elections that should give Republicans comfort, he picks an odd one--at least if he's trying to talk up McCain:
Mr. Clinton's 1996 re-election offers another lesson. Facing a presidential defeat in addition to losses in Congress, Republicans boldly appealed to the public's fondness for divided government. They put out ads featuring a fortune-teller staring into a crystal ball showing over-the-top scenes of Biblical devastation, plague and conflict. An announcer warned: "Remember the last time Democrats ran everything? The largest tax increase in history. Government-run health care. More wasteful spending. Who wants that again? Don't let the media stop you from voting. And don't hand Bill Clinton a blank check."
It worked. Republicans kept control of Congress. Haley Barbour, then chairman of the Republican Party and now governor of Mississippi, said at the time that voters responded to the idea they needed an insurance policy against one-party rule. Independent voters may not like the idea of having the government completely controlled by the trio of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
I think Fund is suggesting that McCain run on a platform of divided government, since I don't think anyone believes the GOP has a prayer of winning back either the House or the Senate. But it doesn't seem like a divided-government appeal could really work for a presidential candidate. Voters might be willing to hold their noses and vote for a politician of a party they don't like if they think that politician will be one of 535. But will they really do that for a presidential candidate? I don't see it. But, hey, if McCain wants to try it, I don't think any Democrats are going to complain.