Powell laments GOP’s ‘dark vein of intolerance’

Updated
 

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday, primarily to speak up in support of former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s (R) nomination to be Secretary of Defense. And sure enough, the former general presented a spirited defense of Hagel.

But towards the end of the interview, David Gregory asked Powell about his party affiliation, and if you missed it, the response is worth watching.

The host noted that Powell sometimes refers to Republicans as “they,” and asked, “[O]n what basis are you still a Republican? Do you feel like this Republican Party has left you or have you left it?” Though Powell said he remains a Republican, he conceded, “I think the Republican Party right now is having an identity problem.”

“[I]n recent years, there’s been a significant shift to the right and we have seen what that shift has produced, two losing presidential campaigns. I think what the Republican Party needs to do now is take a very hard look at itself and understand that the country has changed. The country is changing demographically. And if the Republican Party does not change along with that demographic, they’re going to be in trouble.”

The lengthy, off-the-cuff answer suggested this is an issue Powell has thought about quite a bit. Whether his party cares about the critique, however, is far less clear.

Powell criticized the GOP on immigration policy and systemic voter-suppression tactics used in 2012 to “make it hard for these minorities to vote.” He lamented Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” rhetoric and the racially-charged attacks made against President Obama by Sarah Palin and John Sununu.

Powell specifically said there’s “a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party,” featuring GOP voices who “still sort of look down on minorities.” As proof, he added, “The whole ‘Birther’ movement – why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the party?”

The former Bush/Cheney cabinet member concluded:

“I think the Party has to take a look at itself. It has to take a look at its responsibilities for health care. It has to take a look at immigration. It has to take a look at those less fortunate than us. The party has gathered unto itself a reputation that it is the party of the rich. It is the party of lower taxes. But there are a lot of people who are lower down the food chain, the economic chain, who are also paying lots of taxes relative to their income and they need help. We need more education work being done in this country. We need a solid immigration policy. We have to look at climate change.”

Powell, in other words, seems to want a Republican Party that bears no resemblance to today’s Republican Party, and adopts an agenda that the vast majority of the party currently finds offensive. It was a roadmap for how the contemporary GOP can move back towards the American mainstream, but it’s advice Powell’s fellow Republicans appear to have no use for.

Indeed, for all the post-election reflection on what ails today’s GOP, Republican officials appear convinced that they need to change … nothing. Aside from the party’s leadership suggesting they’re slightly more open to comprehensive immigration reform than in the last Congress, today’s GOP seems entirely convinced that nothing is wrong; advice from people like Powell is unnecessary; and with some slightly better rhetoric, everything will be fine.

As for why Powell remains a Republican, he never actually said what he likes about the party, talking only about what he doesn’t like about the party.

Colin Powell

Powell laments GOP's 'dark vein of intolerance'

Updated