Former Secretary of State Colin Powell obviously didn't read the speech that Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele gave to the state GOP chairmen the week before he knocked Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, and the GOP hardcore on Face the Nation. Powell said as he has time and again that the GOP must be more moderate, compromising and inclusive to save itself from total ruin Steele as he has said time and again that the party must be more conservative, unyielding, and monolithic to save itself from total ruin.
Steele got raves from the party chairmen for his best Reagan stay the course line. Powell got the usual jeers. But it's jeers that he's used to by now. His well timed and publicized knock of Cheney, Limbaugh, and hard core party regulars simply further enshrines him as the GOP's odd man out.
That's probably just as well with Powell. He's still paying the party back for the harsh treatment he got from some within the Bush administration and from others in the GOP during his stint with Bush. That was nothing new.
Despite his impeccable military credentials, unwavering party loyalty, towering prestige, and diplomatic savvy, Powell always stirred unease, even deep furor in the bowels of most conservative Republicans. They were never awestruck by the general's bars, commanding personality, and public popularity. The anti-Powell grumble was heard loudly in 1996 when he made some soundings that he might seek the Republican presidential nomination. Pat Buchanan and ultra conservative groups went nuts.
They sternly warned that they would make "war" on him if he were really serious about grabbing the nomination. If Powell had ignored their threat and charged ahead in his bid for the party's nomination they would have pounded him for backing affirmative action and abortion rights. They would have dredged up the charge that he did not take Saddam Hussein out when he had the chance as chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs during the Gulf War. The general got their message and quickly opted not to seek the nomination. As it turned out, they hammered him with the soft-on-Hussein charge anyway.
It made absolutely no difference that Reagan, Bush Sr., Gerald Ford, William Buckley and nearly every other Republican top cats wanted him on a Republican ticket. They remembered that in some opinion polls, Powell actually made it a horserace in a head to head contest with President Clinton. They figured that as the party's vice-presidential candidate he could breathe some life into the stillborn campaign of Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole in 1996 while not alienating the party's hard liners.
This was the stuff of delusion. If Powell had actually chosen to run he would have been under the most savage scrutiny of any candidate in American presidential history. The public and press would have mercilessly grilled him on foreign and domestic policy issues. Powell would have been forced to answer the same tough questions and face the same objections as the Republican vice-presidential candidate as he would have as a presidential candidate. And Republican hard rightists would have objected just as strongly to the prospect of Powell being one heartbeat away from the presidency.
In 2000, Powell knew that the same Republican rightists still itched to pick a fight with him. He quickly scotched any talk about a Republican presidential candidacy. The Secretary of State post was a much better deal. It gave him a high political profile without the risk of stirring the rancor of the right. As a Bush cabinet nominee, rather than a presidential candidate, Powell would implement, not make, policy. This supposedly kept him out of political harm's way.
But this also proved to be the stuff of delusion. The battle within the Bush administration between Iraq war hawks Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice over the war and the terrorism fight is well-documented. Powell's diplomacy-first tact, his deep understanding that a unilateral too aggressive military policy posed the dire risk of a terrible blowback to U.S. security, and his personal inclinations that Hussein was largely an impotent, contained dictator who had absolutely nothing to do with the terrorism threat was anathema to the hardliners. They still demanded that he vigorously and enthusiastically help beat the administration's war-drum policy. It was a bitter pill for Powell to swallow, but swallow he did.
By the time he walked, got the ax, or walked before he got the ax from his job with Bush, his influence in the GOP was nil. His endorsement of President Obama was strictly a formality. Powell by then was considered by Cheney, Limbaugh and GOP regulars as little more than a closet Democrat anyway. Their sentiment toward him defecting to Obama was good riddance.
Powell should return the sentiment and say good riddance to the GOP.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, "The Hutchinson Report" can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles on Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on ktym.com