Republicans should listen to Colin Powell

OPINION - If Republicans repeat their dismal performance among voters of color when the 2016 election rolls around, don’t blame Colin Powell...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

If Republicans repeat their dismal performance among voters of color when the 2016 election rolls around, don’t blame Colin Powell.

He’s trying to save the GOP from itself—but the question is whether or not they’ll listen.

Speaking to the CEO Forum at a Raleigh, North Carolina country club on Thursday, Gen. Powell, the first black Secretary of State and first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—who served two Republican presidents—warned his party that restrictive voting laws, like those just enacted in North Carolina, serve only to repel voters of color because “What it really says to the minority voters is…we really are sort-of punishing you.”

Punishment, that is, for people who exercised the right to vote for whomever they choose.

It’s a concept that’s so elementary—people won’t vote for a party that won’t respect their votes—that it probably makes Powell wonder whether his party has simply written off the 71 percent of Latinos, 73 percent of Asian Americans and 93 percent of African Americans, including Powell, who pulled the lever for President Barack Obama in 2012.

And the warning was especially noteworthy because Powell made his remarks right after North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory—the guy who just signed new voter restrictions into law—made his own remarks at that same podium.

In effect, Powell told business leaders that the real fraud isn’t voter fraud—it’s McCrory.

Because as NBC affiliate WNCN reported last month, in 2012, the North Carolina Board of Elections catalogued a total of 121 allegations of voter fraud out of 6,947,317 voters—representing a rate of 0.00174 percent of ballots cast. Which effectively says, as Powell noted, that in North Carolina, “there is no voter fraud,” wondering aloud, “how can it be widespread and undetected” at the same time?

The answer, of course, is that it really can’t. And it calls into question the motivation of the state’s GOP lawmakers, who just cut back on early voting despite findings that most of the state’s voters—including white voters, but particularly black voters—vote early.

Especially when state House Speaker Thom Tillis admits that “There is some voter fraud, but that’s not the primary reason for doing this.

Yeah, no kidding.

But beyond North Carolina, the warning Powell offered fellow Republicans was more elemental. It’s that back when the GOP was actually competing for the support of voters of color, there was a line of serious black figures—running from barrier-breaker Jackie Robinson to Gen. Powell himself—that had a voice in the party. And there was a line of Republican politicians ranging from former Michigan Gov. George Romney to former Massachusetts Sen. Edward Brooke who took the concerns of minority voters seriously.

Now, though, that’s all in question. And it’s because contrary to the conventional wisdom, there is a mainstream Republican message that could and would resonate with black, Latino, Asian American and Native American voters: tax less of my money, and spend what you do tax more wisely.

It’s a message that’s buried, though, under the party’s efforts all over the country to shrink the electorate rather than compete for votes—and—its insistence on being the rabid, rather than loyal opposition to Obama.

Which, Powell said, “immediately turns off a voting bloc the Republican Party needs.”

And as Powell—after endorsing Obama in 2008—told CBS last year that, “I plan to stick with him in 2012,” he communicated that as a lifelong—admittedly moderate—Republican, politically, he had nowhere else to go.

For now, neither do most minority voters.

Follow @Swerdlick on Twitter.