Powell Says the GOP Tried to Use ‘Polarization for Political Advantage.’

CNN, December 11, 2008

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. {snip} 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.”

Powell, who crossed party lines and endorsed President-elect Barack Obama just weeks before the election, said the GOP must see what is in the “hearts and minds” of African-American, Hispanic and Asian voters “and not just try to influence them by . . . the principles and dogma.”

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Zakaria’s full interview with Powell will air Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on CNN.


One week ago, most Republicans had never heard of Anh “Joseph” Cao. Those who were aware he was challenging Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) thought he had almost no chance of winning. Not a single Republican in the state’s congressional delegation donated to his campaign.

Today, however, three days after his improbable victory, Cao is the toast of the Republican Party, hailed as the future of the GOP by no less than House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio.

Cao’s stunning upset explains some of his sudden elevation from nobody to conquering hero, but not all of it. Because behind the tributes, his party has a more practical reason for embracing him so vigorously: Without Cao, the GOP is all but bereft of minority faces in Congress.

The 41-year-old immigration attorney and community activist, the first Vietnamese-American ever elected to Congress, will be the only Asian-American Republican in the 111th Congress and the only non-Hispanic minority in the House GOP.

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Boehner touted Cao as a symbol of the party’s future in a memo Sunday night.

In a release titled “The Future is Cao,” Boehner wrote that “the Cao victory is a symbol of what can be achieved when we think big, present a positive alternative and win the trust of the American people.”

For conservatives sensitive to the GOP’s lack of diversity, Cao’s win represents an opportunity to put a new face on a party trying to remake itself after a devastating election cycle, one marked by an exceptionally poor Republican performance among minority voters.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Monday that Cao’s election represented a victory for a different kind of GOP politics, a type of politics he has frequently predicted that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal may bring to the national stage if he were to run for president.

“I think the election of Cao is a major event in New Orleans,” Gingrich said. “You now have the first Vietnamese-American occupying a seat that nobody would have thought he could win. This is the opposite of red-vs.-blue, base-mobilization politics.”

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“It’s an important victory and shows that we are a party that reaches out to minorities as well,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who stood alongside Cao during his victory celebration in New Orleans.

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Under Ken Mehlman’s chairmanship of the RNC, the party spent time and money recruiting minority candidates but achieved little success. Michael Steele, an African-American who is now campaigning to become RNC chairman, lost a 2006 Senate race in Maryland despite getting support from the national party. Former Pittsburgh Steelers star Lynn Swann, also African-American, ran an ill-fated bid against Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, the same year.

“What Cao represents is a new face, a new opportunity, a 21st-century look for the party,” said Steele. “The Republican Party’s strength comes in many forms and many hues. We have to understand now it’s not all white bread.”

Republican consultants also heralded Cao’s victory.

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With Cao’s victory, Louisiana has suddenly emerged as an unlikely base for successful minority Republican candidacies. As recently as 1991, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke won the GOP nomination for governor and garnered over 39 percent of the vote. Now the state’s reform-minded governor, Jindal, is the first Indian-American chief executive in the country and is frequently touted as a possible presidential candidate in 2012.

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