Gannett News Service
The battles in Congress over a massive government bailout of the nation’s financial system have offered fresh insights into how Barack Obama and John McCain would work with what is likely to be a strengthened Democratic Congress in 2009.
In Friday night’s debate, but especially in the acrimonious negotiations in Congress in the days preceding, McCain essentially came across as a potential president with no permanent allies, even in his own party.
His decision to get involved with the negotiations over the proposed $700 billion economic bailout plan exposed conservatives’ unease with their party’s presidential candidate.
Obama, by contrast, embraced – and was embraced by – Democrats in Congress.
“Obama would be able to govern with a unified party behind him, while McCain would have a more difficult time keeping his party in hand,” said Jon Bond, a political scientist at Texas A&M, who has studied Congress and the presidency. “The conservatives in the party have never really trusted McCain.”
Paul Erickson, a Republican strategist who backed McCain rival Mitt Romney in the primaries, predicted that a McCain presidency “will launch a civil war within the Republican Party, the skirmish lines of which began to emerge during the primaries.
“The day after McCain’s inauguration, every party member will have to decide if they are a Republican or a conservative,” Erickson added. “Because McCain will, on an almost daily basis, adopt positions which will be identified as Republican based upon his affiliation, but which will bear scant resemblance to the tenets of Reaganism.”
McCain’s advisers and defenders argue that is precisely why McCain would be more effective than Obama in the hostile, partisan environment in Washington.
Democrats are likely to increase their majorities in the House and Senate in the November elections. But conservative Republicans, especially in the House of Representatives, proved in the debate over the bailout that they will demand attention from the next president.
Democrats accused McCain of jumping in the middle of deliberations and derailing a bailout agreement just when it appeared ready.
But McCain’s advisers said the Arizona senator recognized that Congress was more divided than its leaders realized and his presence at a White House meeting Thursday prompted disparate parties to move toward an agreement that would be more likely to get congressional approval and be more palatable to more Americans.
“What Sen. McCain is absolutely critical in doing is getting everyone together at the table,” McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt said. He argued that McCain listened in the White House meeting while Obama launched a “five-minute soliloquy that soon erupted into chaos.
“Welcome to the Obama White House, I suppose,” Schmidt said.
But Obama senior adviser David Axlerod accused McCain of rapidly changing positions on the financial crisis, moving from saying that the fundamentals of the economy were strong and then, days later, suspending his campaign to jump into the deliberations over a bailout.
By contrast, Axlerod said, Obama “didn’t try to insert himself into the middle of that to turn it into a political spectacle.”
Chuck Raasch is political editor for Gannett News Service. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. For his Furthermore blog, see this column at www.tucsoncitizen.com/opinion.