The GOP's Closing Message

Washington Matters

The GOP's Closing Message

With a week to go, Republicans have settled on one of their closing arguments -- that voters can't afford to turn all of Washington's power levers over to any one party. Presidential nominee John McCain uses that argument, saying the country needs him to be a check on the Democratic Congress, while Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole say they need more GOP members to counter a likely Democratic takeover of the White House. In most years, that might be a potent argument. Not this year. 

Americans have an instinctive fear of a government that is too big or too powerful or too intrusive. That's why few have ever been concerned by divided government -- and some have actively sought it through their votes. The prospect of gridlock has been more a comfort than a concern, as well as a guarantee that no one party or ideology will go too far in a country that has more moderates than partisans, though you'd never know that from the decibel level of discourse.

But to expect that argument to work this time is to misread the mood of the country. Barack Obama and Democratic candidates are doing as well as they are because people are genuinely scared about their economic future. For once, they don't want gridlock. They want a government that will be actively involved in promoting and enacting real solutions. They're not necessarily convinced that Democrats have the right solution, but they're willing to take the chance because, rightly or wrongly, they blame the current mess on Republicans, who controlled the White House and Congress for most of the last eight years.

While independents agree with the divided government argument by a 43-34 margin, overall only 30% of voters buy it, while 50% favor one-party rule, according to The Washington Post/ABC tracking poll last Thursday and Friday That's the reverse of what similar polls have shown in past years.