The GOP Winner Next Time

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The Republicans, of course, did have a winner out there. I'm talking about Colin Powell. I made this flat, unprovable statement to Michigan's popular governor, John Engler, at breakfast the other morning. He didn't argue with me - but, instead, said he was "sure" the first black president would be a Republican.

I asked Governor Engler whether he and some other leading Republicans just might not get out in front of a movement to pull General Powell into the next presidential race. I reminded him how a "draft" movement had developed to persuade General Eisenhower to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 1952. Before that, President Truman had tried to induce Ike into becoming the Democrat to succeed him. But Eisenhower's political taste turned out to be Republican - much to Truman's disgust.

Mr. Engler is himself a most attractive politician, one who just might have beaten President Clinton had he carried the GOP's banner this year. He told us he simply wasn't interested in running in 2000. That's when I turned to the subject of Colin Powell.

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The president and those around him seem to have a very high regard for Powell. For a while after the election the famous Gulf war general was on the top of Mr. Clinton's short list for secretary of state. Powell even let it be known that he was "willing" to serve if tapped. But of late Powell's name appears to have been dropped from that list.

Why? It's understood that Clinton has decided he doesn't want to build up a man who could very well be Al Gore's opponent in the next presidential race. Further, I'm told, Clinton's second thoughts about appointing Powell to this top Cabinet position also spring from anxieties that the personable and accomplished general just might overshadow the man who appointed him.

How attractive is Powell? I was talking the other day to Christopher Shays of Connecticut, a real comer among Republican congressmen. Mr. Shays mentioned that he had seen Powell in action at a function the previous night. As he watched Powell speaking and then shaking hands and socializing, Shays says, he was very impressed by the man's presence. How wonderful it would be, he added, to have a president who is so "decent." Yes, that's a Republican admirer of Powell talking. But that's also what I hear from everyone who knows Powell, or simply sees him up close at some event.

Eisenhower was a "presence," too. He was another man who gave everyone a first - and lasting - impression of decency and honesty. He was also a truly great general. Powell doesn't stand that high - his war wasn't that "big" and his role, perhaps, not that central. But Powell did emerge from the Gulf war a leader much admired by the American people. Let's put it this way: If he became a presidential candidate, he would start out with nearly all voters knowing who he is and having a favorable impression of him.

I don't know how far I got with Engler with my Powell-for-president argument - except that he gave us the impression he was very high on Powell and saw him as a big Republican hope for the future.

But I remain convinced Powell would be a winner. Moderate Republicans would find him just right. And conservatives would find him acceptable because of his military record and his support for and adherence to traditional family values.

With his support for affirmative action and his pro-choice stance on abortion, Powell would wipe away the Democratic edge with women. And don't tell me Powell wouldn't pick up a sizable chunk of the traditionally Democratic black vote too.

Would Powell accept a draft? I think so - if those urging him to run were to include some top Republicans, such as Engler. Powell knows that his biggest job would be to first come out ahead in the primaries. To be sufficiently persuasive, the draft would probably have to include some leading Republicans from the early primary states, particularly Iowa with its caucus and New Hampshire.

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