FLASHBACK: When Reagan longed for a Colin Powell presidency

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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While many conservatives and Republicans dismiss former Secretary of State Colin Powell as less than a true Republican, there was a time when Ronald Reagan hoped Powell would serve as president.

Powell has irked conservatives for some of his outspoken stances in recent years, most notably his endorsements of President Obama in 2008 and 2012. On Thursday, Powell again drew the ire of many on the right when he criticized North Carolina’s recently passed voter-ID law.

“These kinds of actions do not build on the base,” he said in North Carolina. “It just turns people away.”

“What it really says to the minority voters is … ‘We really are sort-of punishing you,” he added.

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” the BBC’s Katty Kay asked, “Do Republicans still see Colin Powell as a Republican?”

Some — perhaps many — probably do not. But there was a time when no less than Ronald Reagan pined for a Powell presidency.

On Nov. 9, 1993, Reagan invited Powell, who had just retired as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to his library in Simi Valley, Calif., to award Powell the second-ever Ronald Reagan Freedom Award. During his speech, Reagan forecasted a day when Powell would be commander in chief.

“I know I shouldn’t say this, but I have a confession to make. I just might have had an ulterior motive for inviting Colin Powell up here today to my presidential library,” he said. “You see, I am hoping that perhaps one day he’ll return the favor and invite me to his.”

After the laughter and applause, Reagan added: “Come to think of it, after the speeches today, I am going to show him the library’s replica of the Oval Office. Now, that will give him an opportunity to get the feel of the place.”

Reagan was also effusive in his praise of Powell, who served as his National Security adviser, in a Jan. 10, 1991 interview with Larry King. At the time of the interview, Powell was chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff for President George H.W. Bush and America was days away from launching the military campaign that pushed Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait:

KING: You — there’s a man that you brought to prominence in public life and now every American knows. He was your national security adviser. What do you think about the job that Colin Powell is doing?

REAGAN: I think it’s a great job. I think he’s a very remarkable man. I was greatly impressed with him and the way he thought when he was my adviser, and I had the pleasure and honor of putting stars on him to be a general, and I think we have a remarkably fine man as our commanding general.

KING: How about some of the other key players? Are you happy with Secretary Baker?

REAGAN: Yes, yes, he seems to be doing all that he can.

KING: Mr. Cheney?


KING: I note, though, from the answers that Powell is your favorite of this group.

REAGAN: Well, I have really…

KING: Personal interest.

REAGAN: … really a great admiration of him and a personal feeling of friendship.

KING: In a wartime situation, no doubt that he would be a great leader?

REAGAN: Yes, he would.

So while Powell’s recent positions may have earned him the enmity of many conservatives and Republicans, there was a time when the Gipper was firmly on his side.

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