Republicans Need Colin Powell's "No-Holds-Barred" Debate

But moderates are as much to blame as conservatives.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Being rendered by the electorate in 2008, for all intents and purposes, temporarily irrelevant, Republicans are engaged in something that resembles, in its intensity, a shooting war for control of what remains of the brand and its political apparatus.

Many of the party's leaders and pretenders to leadership are busily fighting over what amounts to being the absolute rule of the smallest hill in the biggest part of the land. Rather than seek ways to broaden the party's appeal—in campaign school we were taught that winning was about addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division—they are seeking at all times and in all ways to sharpen the knife's edge in an effort to hone the most conservative—and therefore most exclusive—platform possible.

This is a foolish strategy.

It is foolish because it is not a way to win, or even a plan for winning; it is a way to position a movement to come to power merely through the failure of the opposition to lead or to maintain the support of the majority of the voters.

It's like trying to draw a straight when all you hold is the Ace of Hearts and have just asked the dealer for four new cards. It could happen—but the odds are very much against it.

But it is not only conservatives who are at fault. The moderate wing of the Republicans—what remains of it—argues the path back to power follows a map drawn by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: to whit, be more like the Democrats.

This too is a foolish strategy.

The proper way for the Republicans to reassemble their natural majority, for America remains a center-right country, is to engage in a robust and inclusive debate. And it was more then reassuring to see, over the weekend, former Secretary of State Colin Powell not only declare he is still a Republican but argue on CBS's Face the Nation that the GOP needs a "candid, no-holds-barred" debate about its future.

"If we don't reach out more, the party is going to be sitting on a very, very narrow base," Powell said, adding, "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."

In this, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is precisely correct. Unlike the other Republican moderates who are calling for the party's more conservative wing and message to be jettisoned (or for that matter the conservatives who want the party to embrace the most rightward position on most every issue), Powell is arguing for a forceful debate that will, one should believe, have the effect of bringing more people to the table. And that is the best way to forge a coalition that is positioned to move ahead, pardon the marital metaphor, to fight, and win, the battle in the next election. Not to move right, or to move left, but to focus on providing solutions to the problems the average American faces today that are grounded in the principles of personal liberty and limited government.

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