WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican Party needs to broaden its base rather than move farther to the political right to make gains against President Barack Obama’s Democrats, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Sunday.
“Let’s debate the future of the party. And let’s let all the segments of the party come in,” Powell, a Republican who served in President George W. Bush’s Cabinet but endorsed Obama last year, told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“And, if we don’t do that, if we don’t reach out more, 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,” Powell added.
Powell’s comments represent the latest salvo in an ongoing battle over the future of the Republican Party in the aftermath of Obama’s ascent to power following the presidency of the unpopular Bush. Party moderates like Powell increasingly have found themselves marginalized by party conservatives.
Democrats control Congress and the White House. Leading Republicans are searching for a formula to return to power.
“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 to be taken over by Democrats?” Powell asked.
Under fire from conservatives for backing Obama over Republican nominee John McCain in last year’s presidential election, Powell rejected calls to leave the party.
Former Vice President Richard Cheney, who butted heads with Powell often during the Bush administration, said recently, “I think my take on it was Colin had already left the party.”
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, an influential voice in the Republican Party, added, “What Colin Powell needs to do is close the loop and become a Democrat instead of claiming to be a Republican interested in reforming the Republican Party.”
Powell responded, saying: “Rush will not get his wish. And Mr. Cheney was misinformed. I am still a Republican.”
Powell is a leading U.S. black political figure. In a speech to the 1996 Republican convention, Powell supported abortion rights and affirmative action, positions contrary to the thinking of many U.S. conservatives.
Tom Ridge, a Republican former Pennsylvania governor, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program that Republicans “have to be far less judgmental about disagreements within the party” and devote more energy to appealing to voters on issues.
Karl Rove, who served in the Bush White House as a top political adviser, said on “Fox News Sunday” the Republican Party’s future must be decided “in the marketplace of ideas.”
“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’s intraparty battle of ideas,” Rove said.
Polls show about 40 percent of American voters say they are Democrats, while 31 to 32 percent say they are Republicans and 28 percent list themselves as independents.
Editing by Will Dunham