Colin Powell slams GOP’s ‘dark vein of intolerance’; says some in party ‘look down on minorities’

Gen. Colin Powell slammed the Republican Party Sunday for what he calls a “dark vein of intolerance” running through it, saying members of the GOP “still look down on minorities” and that the party needs to change, or it’s “going to be in trouble.”

Powell made the remarks during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, where he was asked by host David Gregory on what basis he is still a Republican, given his divergence from the party in recent years, particularly over his support for President Barack Obama. Powell said he’s still a Republican, but that the party he grew up in was that of former president George Herbert Walker Bush, President Ronald Reagan’s defense secretary Caspar Weinberger and Senator Dick Lugar, who was ousted by a tea party challenger in Indiana last fall, only to see the challenger, Richard Mourdock, lose the Senate seat to a Democrat following controversial remarks he made about rape.

“In recent years there’s been a significant shift to the right” within the GOP, Powell told host David Gregory. “And we’ve seen what that shift has produced: two losing presidential campaigns.”

“The Republican party needs to take a very hard look at itself and understand that the country has changed,” Powell said. “The country is changing demographically, and if the Republican Party doesn’t change along with that demographic, it’s going to be in trouble.”

Powell noted that in the next generation, racial and ethnic minorities will constitute a majority in the U.S., and given that Republicans “can’t go around saying we’re not gonna have a solid immigration policy, we’re gonna dismiss the 47 percent, we are gonna make it hard for these minorities to vote, as they did in the last election.”

“What did that produce? The court struck most of that down,” Powell continued, “and most importantly, it caused people to turn out and stand in line because these Republicans are trying to keep us from voting.”

Powell described what he called a “dark vein of intolerance in some parts” of the Republican party. “They still sort of look down on minorities,” he said. Referring, without naming them, to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, Powell said: “when I see a former governor say that the president is ‘shucking and jiving,’” as Palin did last year, “that’s a racial era slave term. And when I see another former governor [Sununu], after the president’s first [2012 presidential] debate and he didn’t do well, say he was ‘lazy‘ … he didn’t say he was slow, he was tired, he didn’t do well, he said he was ‘lazy.’” Now that may not mean anything to most Americans but to those of us who are African-American, the second word is ‘shiftless’ and then there’s a third word that goes with it.”

Powell added the “birther” movement to his list of examples of intolerance, and asked, “why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the party?”

The former secretary of state under President George W. Bush added that the GOP needs to address issues like healthcare, and economic opportunity for those who are lower income, adding that “the party has gathered unto itself the reputation that it’s the party of the rich.”

Powell said the the party is in trouble “if it’s just going to represent the far right wing.”

For all those critiques, he remains a Republican, albeit a moderate one, and that “until I voted for Mr. Obama twice, I had voted for seven straight Republican presidents.”

During the interview, Powell also defended fellow Vietnam war veteran Chuck Hagel, who President Obama has nominated to be the country’s next secretary of defense, but who has come under blistering attack from neoconservatives and other Republicans.

Read more about the Powell interview on NBCNews.com.