The last sentence in the Washington Post's Battle over the replacement of Ruth Bader Ginsburg rages as tributes to late justice pour in says:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell privately told his members in a letter circulated Friday night to keep their powder dry on where they stand on proceeding with a confirmation fight this year.

In this context the author of the letter needs the recipients to behave in a certain way in order to win what may be a long "fight" and has offered this as a a first set of instructions. Others will follow.

This might be something along the lines of keep quiet, or stand firm, or perhaps remain in a state of readiness to respond to further instructions, but I can't tell which.

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    It's almost meaningless. "Keep your powder dry" is an old idiom you can look up. "Where you stand" metaphorically means your (presumably strongly felt) opinion about some topic.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 19, 2020 at 12:54
  • @HotLicks I'd never heard this before, but yes indeed there it is in a political context: I think some potential candidates are going to keep their powder dry and see how it's playing out. "Wait before taking action, but be ready to take action if it is necessary" Hmm, I get the idea now, I wonder if I should just delete this or allow someone the opportunity to post an answer.
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 19, 2020 at 12:57

1 Answer 1


Before the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, Oliver Cromwell famously told his troops to "Trust in God and keep your powder dry" (gunpowder attracts moisture very easily). So the phrase means 'make sure you are suitably prepared', not 'keep quiet' as the Senator's letter seems to imply. However, perhaps he meant that keeping their opinion secret for now was a preparation for later events.


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