On Oct. 19, 2008, Colin Powell caused quite a stir by appearing on “Meet the Press” and offering a rather spirited endorsement of Barack Obama. George W. Bush’s Secretary of State still referred to the Republican Party as “my party,” but nevertheless threw his support to the Democrat.
Four years later, would the retired four-star general change his mind? Apparently not – Powell endorsed President Obama during an interview with CBS News this morning.
For those who can’t watch clips online, Powell explained the reasoning behind his support for Obama.
“When he took over the country was in very, very difficult straits, we were in one of the worst recessions we had seen in recent times, close to a depression. The fiscal system was collapsing. Wall Street was in chaos. We had 800,000 jobs lost in that first month of the Obama administration and unemployment would peak a few months later at 10%. So we were in real trouble. The auto industry was collapsing. The housing industry was starting to collapse, and we were in very difficult straits.
“And I saw over the next several years stabilization come back in the financial community, housing is now starting to pick up after four years, it’s starting to pick up. Consumer confidence is rising. So I think generally we’ve come out of the dive and we’re starting to gain altitude. It doesn’t mean we are problem solved, there are lots of problems still out there. The unemployment rate is too high. People are still hurting in housing. But I see that we are starting to rise up. I also saw the President get us out of one war, start to get us out of a second war and did not get us into any new wars. And finally, I think that the actions he’s taken with respect to protecting us from terrorism have been very, very solid. And so I think we ought to keep on the track that we are on.”
Nearly as interesting, however, were Powell’s thoughts on Mitt Romney.
As part of his Obama endorsement, Powell summarized Romney’s economic plan as, “Essentially, ‘Let’s cut taxes.’”
But Powell went much further in explaining his “concerns” about Romney and foreign policy.
POWELL: The governor, who was speaking on Monday night at the debate, was saying things that were quite different from what he said earlier. So I’m not quite sure which Governor Romney we would be getting with respect to foreign policy.
CBS: What concerns do you have about Governor Romney’s foreign policy?
POWELL: Well, it’s hard to fix it. I mean, it’s a moving target. One day he has a certain strong view about staying in Afghanistan, but then on Monday night he agrees with the withdrawal. Same thing in Iraq. On almost every issue that was discussed on Monday night, Governor Romney agreed with the President with some nuances. But this is quite a different set of foreign policy views than he had earlier in the campaign. And my concern, which I’ve expressed previously in a public way, is that sometimes I don’t sense that he has thought through these issues as thoroughly as he should have, and he gets advice from his campaign staff that he then has to adjust to modify as he goes along.
CBS: Are you concerned about the people that are advising Governor Romney?
POWELL: I think there’s some very, very strong neo-conservative views that are presented by the Governor that I have some trouble with. There are other issues as well, not just the economy and foreign policy. I’m more comfortable with President Obama and his administration when it comes to issues like what are we going to do about climate, what are we going to do about immigration? What are we going to do about education? Lots of things like that. I do not want to see the new Obamacare plan thrown off the table. It has issues, you have to fix some things in that plan. But what I see when I look at that plan is 30 million of our fellow citizens will now be covered by insurance. And I think that’s good. We’re one of the few nations in the world, with our size, population and wealth, that does not have universal health care.
The next question, of course, is the political significance of remarks like these.
Powell remains a popular national figure, despite his Bush/Cheney role, and I don’t doubt that Obama is delighted to have his support. Team Romney will downplay the news, but realistically, we can say with confidence that Republicans would be shouting from the rooftops had Powell backed Romney or even announced his neutrality this morning.
I don’t imagine the endorsement will swing a significant number of votes to the president, but it doesn’t hurt to have a popular Republican endorsing Obama on national television, either. For that matter, for Bush’s former Secretary of State – a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs – to tell a national audience that Romney simply isn’t credible on international affairs should reinforce doubts about the candidate’s readiness.