WASHINGTON – Under intense fire from the right, former Secretary of State Colin Powell is preparing to answer his Republican critics today in a television appearance that is likely to add fuel to his long-standing feud with top conservatives in his party.
The appearance will come just days after Powell, one of the country’s leading black political figures, told an audience in Boston that a new Republican Party is “waiting to emerge.” Earlier this month, he said the party is in “deep trouble” because “Americans are looking for more government in their life, not less.”
Powell’s current battle with the right flank of the GOP is a continuation of a war that began in November 1995, when he announced that he would not be a candidate in the 1996 presidential race. With an apparent eye on 2000, he said he would change his lifelong political registration from independent to Republican and begin a quest to move the party toward what he considered its natural home in the center.
Conservatives denounced his 1996 GOP convention speech, in which he voiced his support for abortion rights and affirmative action. But he quickly dropped off the political radar and did not resurface until presidential candidate George W. Bush sought him out as a popular figure whose public following and foreign policy expertise would benefit the Republican ticket.
Powell served as Bush’s secretary of state and avoided partisan political activities after leaving the White House at the end of Bush’s first term. That changed late in the 2008 presidential campaign, when he endorsed Barack Obama.
Since the election, he has called for the GOP to target mainstream moderates and abandon “impractical” ideas. That message, delivered in fits and starts, has proved too much for some conservatives as the party struggles to find its voice following Obama’s victory. Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and former Vice President Dick Cheney have attacked Powell in recent days as a traitor to his party.
“What Colin Powell needs to do is close the loop and become a Democrat, instead of claiming to be a Republican interested in reforming the Republican Party,” Limbaugh told listeners. Cheney dryly commented, “I didn’t know he was still a Republican.”
Powell’s turn will come this weekend. He is scheduled to appear today on CBS’s “Face the Nation” and has told associates that he plans to answer his critics. Whether he will make an announcement about his party affiliation is unclear.