In the latest round of the increasingly heated intra-GOP feud, former Secretary of State Colin Powell Sunday defended his Republican credentials and fired back at radio host Rush Limbaugh and former Vice President Dick Cheney, saying the party had to expand beyond its conservative base.
“Rush will not get his wish and Mr. Cheney was misinformed – I am still a Republican,” Powell said in a much-anticipated interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” two weeks after Cheney suggested on the same show that the retired General had left the party by endorsing President Obama last fall, made clear he was not abandoning the GOP.
Powell outlined his party bona fides, noting his votes for and services under a string of Republican presidents, and said it was not up to Cheney and Limbaugh – the radio host has kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism since Powell's cross-party endorsement last year – to determine who belonged in the GOP.
“Neither [Cheney] nor Rush Limbaugh are members of the membership committee of the Republican Party,” Powell said.
Powell suggested that there were a number of moderates in the party who shared his concerns but were hesitant to speak out “because if you are vocal you’re going to get your voice mail filled up and get lots of emails like I did.”
One such Republican did seem to take Powell's side of the fight today, as Former Homeland Security Secretary and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge also joined in the criticism of Limbaugh Sunday.
“I I think Rush articulates his point of view in ways that offend very many,” Ridge said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“It's a matter of language and a matter of how you use words. It does get the base all fired up and he's got a strong following. But personally, if he would listen to me and I doubt if he would, the notion is express yourselves but let's respect others opinions and let's not be divisive.”
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Ridge also split with Cheney on the vice-president's claim that Obama's policies were making American less safe. I do not" agree with that, Ridge plainly told CNN's John King, adding, "Yeah, I disagree with Dick Cheney."
Powell also found a less likely ally in former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who said on "Meet the Press" that "I don't want to pick a fight with Dick Cheney, but the fact is, the Republican party has to be a broad party that appeals across the country," adding, "To be a national party, you have to have a big enough tent that you inevitably have fights inside the tent."
Pointing to President Reagan's at appealing to Democrats and independents as he carried 49 states in 1984, Gingrich – himself a potential 2012 contender for the party's presidential nomination – concluded, "I think Republicans are going to be very foolish if thy run around deciding that they're going to see how much they can purge us down to the smallest possible space."
It's a point Powell made, even as reiterated his commitment to the GOP, stressing that the party had to broaden itself to stay relevant, framing his critique as the political version of a military after-action report following last year’s election.
“I think the Republican Party has to take a hard look at itself and decide what kind of party are we,” Powell said. “Are we simply moving further to the right and by so doing opening up the right of center and the center to be taken over by independents and be taken over by Democrats.”
Powell – who held up the late Jack Kemp as a model for the party, a conservative who was inclusive – also had some choice words for his two critics.
Reiterating his support for closing down the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Powell said Cheney’s opposition was an affrontto Obama’s predecessor, as well.
“Mr. Cheney is not only disagreeing with President Obama’s policy, he’s disagreeing with President Bush’s policy,” Powell said.
And, citing Cheney’s suggestion in a speech last week that President Obama only wanted to close Guantanamo to make Europeans happy, Powell said, “No, we’re doing it to reassure Europeans, Muslims, Arabs, all the people around the world, that we’re a nation of law.”
Lending credence to Democrats argument that moving the Gitmo detainees to American soil would not put the country in danger, Powell said he was “not terribly worried about one of these guys going to a super lock-up.”
As for Limbaugh -- whose name Powell pronounced as “Lim-bow” -- the former Secretary of State said he was an “entertainer” but who had such influence over the party that officials had to live in fear of offending him. “Well, if he’s out there he should be subject to criticism, just as I’m subject to criticism,” Powell said.
He lamented that RNC Chairman Michael Steele had “to lay prostrate on the floor” apologizing to Limbaugh after criticizing him and that other GOP members of Congress had to be similarly repentant after taking on the radio host.
Steele, who's giving on Tuesday what the RNC is touting as a major speech out his vision for the party, said in an interview this week with "Fox News," that "I want a party that speaks to people. The idea that we only narrowly speak to one segment of the population is boneheaded and it's not reflective of the history of this party," adding, "How is kicking Colin Powell out or kicking Dick Cheney out or Rush Limbaugh in going to feed a child who's hungry tonight?"
In an appearance on "Fox News Sunday," Karl Rove dismissed the dust-up between Cheney and Powell, since "neither one of those two are candidates," and deemed the fight "a false debate that Washington loves."
Asked if he agreed with Cheney's contention that Limbaugh was better for the Republican Party than Powell, Rove said: "Yes, if I had to pick between the two."