As many of you probably know, Colin Powell (a long-time, moderate Republican who backed McCain in 2000 and donated to him in 2007) is backing Obama, to the dismay (and motive-questioning) of many Republicans, and joy of many Democrats. Here’s the endorsement:
This is something that John McCain did not need, and it’s not going to help us Republicans at all.
My suspicion is that something like this happened: Powell intended to remain publicly neutral since the summer. There were rumors of an Obama endorsement floating around since late summer. But I don’t think Powell wanted to do that; he’s got too many friends in the Republican Party with whom he’d be burning bridges, and an August endorsement would probably have netted him a keynote address at the Democratic Convention (see also: Zell Miller).
Why did he break down and endorse, then? My suspicion is that the tone of the McCain campaign got a bit ugly for him. When there are people yelling “kill him” at rallies, it has the tendency of putting those in full control of their temperament at unease, especially when there are not prompt rebukes of such comments. That, plus the Muslim rumors (I’ll repeat what I’ve said personally here: Barack Obama is a Christian, and was for many years a member of a church in Chicago pastored by Rev. Jeremiah Wright) put an ugly tinge on the campaign, one that McCain didn’t prevent from creeping in effectively.
Race need not have anything to do with it; there are plenty of reasons for a Republican to endorse Obama (regrettably including one named Sarah Palin). However, there are also plenty of reasons for a Democrat to endorse McCain (Obama’s inexperience being the most popular).
The fact that Powell’s personal views (he is pro-gun control, pro-abortion, pro-affirmative action, and has had sharp foreign policy differences with the Bush administration) are not entirely in step with the party (which opposes the first three and still, as a rule, would invade Iraq again if given the choice) doesn’t help things.
So, as I said, I suspect that he intended to simply not say anything, but found himself in an increasingly uncomfortable position with the tone of the campaign and felt compelled to come out. He’s far from the only Republican who’s not thrilled with the tone of this campaign, and that is a problem for McCain.