Colin Powell: 1996 and 2008
by Jonathan Singer, Sun Oct 19, 2008 at 10:27:02 AM EDT
The man the Republican Party wanted to be its standard-bearer in 1996 has endorsed the man the Democratic Party chose as its standard-bearer in 2008.
There is an interesting debate among some on this side of the aisle as to whether it's worth fully embracing Colin Powell's endorsement today of Barack Obama, particularly in light of the role the former Secretary of State played in the run up to the Iraq War. But to me, the more interesting angle to the story is the one in my lede above.
In 1996, the Republican Party's best and probably only shot at retaking the White House was with Powell at their helm. Indeed, exit polling showed Powell beating Bill Clinton and Ross Perot in a three-way match up that year -- with 50 percent of the vote, I might add. Even before the 1994 midterm elections, a significant Draft Powell movement had emerged within the GOP. In August 1996, Powell was one of the key featured speakers at the Republican National Convention. Just today, Powell made clear that he's still a member of the Republican Party.
So the fact that Powell, a Republican who very well might have been a Republican President in 1997, came out this morning and endorsed Obama for President in no uncertain terms is a remarkable repudiation of the GOP, one that has to sting. It would be like Mario Cuomo endorsing George W. Bush in 2004, except bigger because by 2004 Cuomo was less prominent on the national stage than Powell is today. The closest comparison in my mind might be 1940 Republican Presidential nominee Wendell Willkie accepting a prominent role in the FDR administration (or
Arthur Arnie Vinick joining the nascent Matt Santos administration, as it were).
The Republicans may try to play the race card in an attempt to discount the importance of today's news, but it just doesn't ring true to me -- and I have a feeling it won't to a whole lot of voters, either.