I generally try to ignore what Dick Cheney says these days, but I took notice Sunday when the former vice president said Colin Powell is no longer a Republican.

Here’s the gist of the matter, as reported on CNN’s Web site:

Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Cheney was asked about a dispute between Powell — who was secretary of state in the Bush-Cheney administration — and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh over the role each plays in the GOP.

“My take on it was Colin had already left the party,” Cheney said. “I didn’t know he was still a Republican.”

The former vice president noted that Powell endorsed then-Sen. Barack Obama in last year’s presidential race. “I assume that that’s some indication of his loyalty and his interests,” Cheney said.

Powell, in a speech last week, said “the Republican Party is in deep trouble” and said the GOP would be better off without Limbaugh, according to a report by the National Journal.

Limbaugh fired back on his program Wednesday, saying, “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.”

So Cheney and Limbaugh consider Powell a Democrat because he endorsed Obama for president? Does that mean they consider Joe Lieberman a Republican because he endorsed John McCain for president?

Interestingly, Cheney wants to boot Powell from the GOP but claims “there is room for moderates in the Republican Party” :

But, he added, “I don’t think the party ought to move dramatically to the left, for example, in order to try to redefine its base. We are what we are. We’re Republicans. We have certain things we believe in. And maintaining our loyalty and commitment to those principles is vital to our success.”

The next journalist who interviews Cheney needs to ask him for some examples of acceptable GOP moderates, because I’m curious who would be on that list.

Just as both major political parties have done when down in the past, the Republican Party will regain prominence — but first Republican leaders need to embrace moderate voices within their party. Unfortunately for them, tolerance of GOP moderates is hard to envision when vocal partisans like Cheney and Limbaugh are quick to expel any Republican who dares to disagree with them. The Republican Party needs vocal leaders who are more tolerant of true GOP moderates, and those vocal leaders must be able to out-shout Limbaugh and company. Until that time comes, it is likely the GOP will continue to struggle for relevancy on a national level.

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