When former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed then-Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama it was big news, not just because of his name but because to many independent, centrist and moderate voters Powell often articulates how many of them feel.
Now Powell, in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria for Sunday’s “GPS” program, is doing it again, making two points in public that will make independent, centrist and moderate voters nod their heads:
1. The GOP should be more inclusive. There’s nothing wrong with being conservative. Conservatism can be a big umbrella. The party should stop shouting and start listening.
2. Does the Republican party REALLY have to keep listening to conservative Rush Limbaugh, who could never be confused with a consensus and broad-base coalition builder?
The Republican party must stop “shouting at the world” and start listening to minority groups if it is to win elections in the 21st century, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday.
In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria for Sunday’s “GPS” program, President Bush’s former secretary of state said his party’s attempt “to use polarization for political advantage” backfired last month.
“I think the party has to take a hard look at itself,” Powell said in the interview, which was taped Wednesday. “There is nothing wrong with being conservative. There is nothing wrong with having socially conservative views — I don’t object to that. But if the party wants to have a future in this country, it has to face some realities. In another 20 years, the majority in
this country will be the minority.”
According to CNN, Powell said Republicans need to try to see what is in the “hearts and minds” of minority voters such as African-American, Hispanic and Asian voters, “and not just try to influence them by… the principles and dogma.”
He’s calling on the party to do some serious self examination:
“I think the party has to stop shouting at the world and at the country,”Powell said. “I think that the party has to take a hard look at itself, and I’ve talked to a number of leaders in recent weeks and they understand that.” Powell, who says he still considers himself a Republican, said his party should also stop listening to conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
“Can we continue to listen to Rush Limbaugh?” Powell asked. “Is this really the kind of party that we want to be when these kinds of spokespersons seem to appeal to our lesser instincts rather than our better instincts?”
The question about Limbaugh — which would also include Sean Hannity and some others — is not a trivial one. During campaign 2008 there were several instances where losing Republican Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain seemed to make decisions at variance with how he behaved in past campaigns — decisions that seemed to be in line with what the conservative talk show hosts who originally considered McCain anathema were loudly demanding. McCain seemed to spend a lot of his time trying to woo the Republican party’s base. And conservative talk radio is a kind of gathering point for many partisan Republican conservatives.
The bottom line is whether the GOP can extricate itself from being such an integral part of the talk radio political/media culture which doesn’t seek consensus and cooperation as much as it seems to arouse emotions via hot-button issues and outrage-tinged rhetoric. Talk radio hosts can’t get ratings talking about programs and solutions: they must arouse passions to attract and hold audiences and deliver them to advertisers. The best — such as Limbaugh — are also talented broadcasters and know how to do just that.
This has fit in well with Karl Rove’s strategy of mobilization elections, where the main goal was to get out the party’s base by making them feel the election was critical to their party’s and the nation’s future. Rove’s sometimes successful political formula was outgrowth of the 1960s political strategy used so well by Richard Nixon.
The problem with that strategy as a long term one is that it slams shut doors so that groups that are excluded by often angry, red-meat rhetoric don’t feel they have a place…and in 2008 some of these groups walked right into the open arms of Barack Obama and the Democrats for a big, fat hug.
Powell isn’t arguing for the Republican party to become a moderate party — just a party that values building bridges and expanding its coalition, instead of demonizing or ignoring groups not already in its winning coalition.
Rush, Sean and the others can’t get mega ratings by appealing to diverse ideologies and viewpoints. But the GOP can win more votes and enhance its image if it tries to do just that — and if the party is more appealing to the country’s center. By appealing to the center, it can help define the center; in election 2008 it was left behind by the center.