Colin Powell wrote a speech in November 1995 announcing his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. He wrote another speech announcing a decision not to show up.
When he confronted reporters at a hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, Powell gave the second speech.
Politics “demands a calling that I don’t yet hear,” he said, explaining why he wouldn’t take outgoing White House President Bill Clinton.
Powell was therefore not to be the first black president of the United States. Instead, he was “perhaps one of the best Americans to ever be president,” former British Prime Minister John Major said on Monday after Powell died at the age of 84 in due to complications from Covid-19.
The loss of America was no doubt also the tragedy of the Republican party. In his remarks, Powell said he would help the party “expand its appeal,” suggesting it could “help Lincoln’s party get closer to Lincoln’s spirit” and find ways to ” cure racial divisions ”in society.
But by the end of his life, Powell, who had previously voted Republican in seven consecutive presidential elections, had backed Democrats for the past four. He eventually left the party that went to Donald Trump and his lying, racist populism.
“Like many Republicans, he felt the party was leaving him, that the party was taking a right turn and he felt more and more unwelcome,” he said. Joe Cirincione, who, as chairman of the Plowshares Fund, a foundation focused on nuclear non-proliferation and conflict resolution, worked closely with Powell.
“He never joined the Democratic Party. He preferred the moderate Republicans’ policies, even though he watched the party go, but it was Trump and Trumpism that pushed him out of the party.
Powell was the son of a seamstress and shipping room foreman in the garment district of Manhattan, both immigrants from Jamaica. He wrote in his 1995 autobiography My American Journey: “Mine is the story of an early promising black child from a limited-income immigrant family who grew up in the South Bronx. “
A veteran of the Vietnam War, Powell spent 35 years in the military and achieved the rank of Four-Star General. He served as national security adviser to Ronald Reagan and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under another Republican president, George HW Bush, during the 1991 Gulf War.
He had been a political independent during his military career but, after his retirement in 1993 and a successful memoir, was courted by Democrats and Republicans as potential presidential material. He sided with the latter, explaining that he aligned himself with Republicans on fiscal responsibility, small government and low taxes, even though he disagreed with some illiberal positions.
Cirincione, now a think tank member at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft in Washington, recalled: “If he had decided, I think he would have been the Republican candidate. At that time, he was one of the most respected people in the country. He would have been the candidate to beat if he had decided to go for it. “
But after much agony, Powell ruled out an offer from the White House. He publicly acknowledged the potential impact on his family as a factor. His wife, Alma, was said to have feared he would be murdered because of his skin color. Journalist Bob Woodward’s book Bush at War quoted her: “If you run, I’m going. You will have to do it alone.
Cirincione added: “He would often say things like ‘It was the countryside’. He wouldn’t mind being president, but it was the campaigns that would have killed him. He was comfortable in leadership roles, including as chairman of the joint chiefs in charge of millions of our troops.
“It was very personal to him due to his wife’s health and he just didn’t want to engage in the kind of grueling, time-consuming effort it takes to become president at the sacrifice of what he thought. be his family. He was not prepared to do it.
Powell returned to public service when he was appointed Secretary of State to President George W Bush, becoming the first African American to be the country’s top diplomat. He publicly presented misinformation about weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, which he then called a “stain” that “will always be on my record.”
Powell has also come to personify a part of the moderate old Republican Guard increasingly horrified by the party leadership. Although he donated to the party candidate John McCain’s campaign in 2008, he did not support his running mate, Sarah Palin, a shattering neophyte whose white rage represented opening a box. of Pandora.
In a blow to McCain’s campaign, Powell backed Barack Obama, a Democrat he hailed as a “transformational figure.” He told NBC’s political show Meet the Press: “I am also troubled, not by what Senator McCain is saying, but by what party members are saying. And it is okay to say things like “Well you know Mr. Obama is a Muslim”.
“Well, the correct answer is that he’s not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He has always been a Christian. But the really correct answer is, what if it is? Is there anything wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is no, it is not America. Is there something wrong with a seven year old American Muslim kid who believes he or she could be president? “
Underlining his reservations about the populist-nativist drift of the Republican Party, Powell again supported Obama in 2012, then Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and Joe Biden last year. He described Trump as a liar who posed a fundamental danger to the United States.
Cirincione noted: “He thought Trump was crazy. He believed that the risk of the President of the United States using nuclear weapons was greater under Trump than at any point in his career. It is this risk to global security, as well as the threat to democracy, that has kept him away from the Republican Party. “
The deadly uprising of a pro-Trump crowd at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was the water drop: Powell said he no longer considered himself a Republican. The party with which he had grown up, which had married the American dream and promoted him to senior positions in government, no longer existed.
Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said, “Colin Powell came from a working-class background and he never forgot it. The party moved away from the blue-collar Democrats Reagan, which is probably closer to where Colin Powell was, and it became much more of a corporate party, a party that would win the election by stoking resentment. racial.
“It became a lot less inclusive on social issues that Powell was more moderate on. I think the reason he didn’t run for president is because he looked at the Republican Party and didn’t see a place for himself. From a practical standpoint, he felt he probably couldn’t win the nomination without a lot of strife and maybe his reputation tarnished.