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The last job Colin Powell had in government was as the country's top diplomat. But today the four-star general came out swinging on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"What we have to do is debate and define who we are and what we are and not just listen to dictates that come down from the right wing of the party," said Powell, who most recently served as secretary of state under President George W. Bush and who had been appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush.
Powell finds himself in the middle of an increasingly bitter family feud over how to bring the GOP back to life. Conservative Republicans are still angry with his endorsement of Barack Obama in last fall's election. But Powell said that he has a solid record of voting for Republican presidents, though he did vote for Democrats John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter.
Powell has long been a favorite target of conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh who has urged Powell to "close the loop and become a Democrat."
And former Vice President Dick Cheney recently goaded his former colleague in the George W. Bush administration: "My take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn't know he was still a Republican."
But during the morning news talk show today, Powell responded to his critics. "Rush will not get his wish. And Mr. Cheney was misinformed. I am still a Republican." Powell says the GOP needs to attract more moderates, not just for its own sake, but for the sake of the nation, which needs a strong opposition party. "If we don't do that, if we don't reach out more," said Powell, "the party is going to be sitting on a very, very narrow base. You can only do two things with a base. You can sit on it and watch the world go by, or you can build on the base."
Former Bush advisor Karl Rove chimed in on the debate today on Fox News. He said there is room for Colin Powell in the Republican Party but winning the party mantle is another question. "I want Colin Powell to go out there and lay out his vision, and then I want him to back it up by finding people who share it and working like heck to get them -- and that's how you win the party -- the party's intraparty battle of ideas," he said.
Republicans are quick to say that this kind of internal debate and political soul searching is natural after a big loss like the one the GOP suffered last fall. But political analysts say Republicans won't have a chance at reviving themselves as a party until they stop attacking each other, and start focusing their attacks collectively, on the Democrats.