If Democrats are busy reading all kinds of their own anxieties into Tuesday's Massachusetts Senate special election, Republicans might be doing the same thing in reverse. To hear GOP leaders talking Wednesday, you could be forgiven for thinking Scott Brown was elected to a lifelong term as royal potentate of the United States, not to a two-year term as junior senator, until Massachusetts voters can choose whether to give him a full six years.
"We believe this election is about more than the success of one man," Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., told reporters. "The American people have spoken." Standing next to him, Rep. Candace Miller, R-Mich., echoed the sentiment. "The American people have been speaking," she said. "They spoke in August, Mr. President and the majority. Can you hear us now?"
Republican after Republican on Capitol Hill came forward with a version of this theory: Brown's election practically wipes out the 2006 and 2008 elections, and the large majorities they handed to Democrats, and puts the GOP in the driver seat on legislation. "In my view, they misread the electorate in 2008 and decided to pursue a largely dramatically left-of-center agenda," Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said. "We've said repeatedly, throughout last year, and I'll say again now, that we're prepared to meet them in the middle for truly bipartisan solutions to the problems the American people sent us here to grapple with."
What that means for specific legislation is a little hard to predict. Republicans have essentially boycotted Democratic proposals up to now, voting unanimously against healthcare reform in the Senate (and all but unanimously against it in the House), voting unanimously against financial regulatory reform in the House, voting unanimously against cap-and-trade environmental regulations in the House and doing nothing to encourage the Senate to take it up.
"If they want to accomplish things around here, a better way to go is not to try to jam us because they have a big majority, but rather work on these issues with an open mind and with a genuine bipartisan approach," McConnell said. "Those kinds of measures end up being the kinds of things you can sell to the American people."
But asked what issues he's prepared to work with President Obama on, McConnell could think of only one. " I think they're on the right track in Afghanistan," he said.