Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican who crossed party lines to endorse President Obama in 2008 and 2012, scalded his party for harboring a "dark vein of intolerance" Sunday, saying the GOP "has to take a very hard look at itself."
There is a "dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party," Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is they still sort of look down on minorities."
As evidence, Powell pointed to a number of statements that were directed at Mr. Obama during the campaign by Republicans - statements that he believes were racially motivated.
"When I see a former governor say that the president is 'shuckin' and jivin'.' That's a racial era slave-term," Powell said of Sarah Palin's description of the president's response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
He also took issue with former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu's characterization of the president as "lazy" following a tepid performance in the first presidential debate.
"He didn't say he was slow, he was tired, he didn't do well. He said he was 'lazy.' Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans," Powell said, "but to those of us who are African-Americans, the second word is 'shiftless,' and then there's a third word that goes along with it."
Powell also singled out the "birther movement" for criticism, expressing amazement that Republicans have not excommunicated the fringe conspiracy theorists from the party.
"The whole birther movement: Why do senior Republicans tolerate this kind of discussion within the party?" Powell asked, counseling the party to "take a look at itself."
Powell noted, "I'm a moderate, but I'm still a Republican," and fretted that his party may soon be facing obsolescence if it does not reorient itself.
"In recent years, there's been a significant shift to the right" on the part of the GOP, Powell said, "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."
And Powell argued that the problem is more message than messenger - beyond public relations and optics to the Republican platform itself - and advised the GOP to moderate its stance on education, immigration, and climate change to attract new voters.
"Everybody wants to talk about, 'Who's going to be the candidate?'" Powell said. "You've got to think first about what's the party actually going to represent. If it's just going to represent the far right wing of the political spectrum, I think the party is in difficulty."