The man who served as former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff leveled a blistering attack against the Republican Party after Mitt Romney presidential campaign surrogate John Sununu suggested that the only reason Powell endorsed President Barack Obama for re-election is because they’re both black.
Lawrence Wilkerson, who is a white Republican, said Sununu’s remarks speak to a major and disturbing problem within the GOP.
“Let me be candid: My party is full of racists,” Wilkerson said Friday night on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show,” adding that not all Republicans fit the description. “And the real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House has nothing to do with the content of his character, nothing to do with his competence as commander-in-chief, and everything to do with the color of his skin. And that’s despicable.”
Sununu, a former New Hampshire governor who served as President George H.W. Bush’s White House chief of staff, intimated to CNN’s Piers Morgan Thursday night that Powell’s nod to Obama was a black thing. Powell is a moderate Republican who many in the GOP once thought of as White House material.
“Well I’m not sure how important that is,” Sununu said of Powell’s endorsement. “I do like the fact that Colin Powell’s boss, George Herbert Walker Bush, has endorsed Romney all along. And frankly, when you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to wonder whether that’s an endorsement based on issues or whether he’s got a slightly different reason for preferring President Obama.”
When Morgan asked what that reason could be, Sununu responded: “Well, I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him.”
Sununu, who often speaks on behalf of the Romney campaign, quickly issued a statement saying, “Colin Powell is a friend and I respect the endorsement decision he made and I do not doubt that it was based on anything but support of the president’s policies.”
“Piers Morgan’s question was whether Colin Powell should leave the party, and I don’t think he should,” Sununu added.
Wilkerson called Sununu’s suggestion ridiculous, adding that “To say that Colin Powell would endorse President Obama because of his skin color is like saying Mother Teresa worked for profit.”
“I don’t have any respect for the integrity of the position that he seemed to codify,” Wilkerson said of Sununu. “Look at me, Ed, I’m white. I’m not black. Colin Powell picked me because of the content of my character and my competence.”
Thursday wasn’t the first time Sununu made racially-tinged remarks about the presidential contest and Obama. In July, Sununu said “I wish this president would learn how to be an American.”
“He has no idea how the American system functions, and we shouldn’t be surprised about that, because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia, and when he came to the U.S. worked as a community organizer – which is a socialized structure – and then got into politics in Chicago.”
Obama, appearing Friday on Philadelphia talk radio host Michael Smerconish’s show, appeared to let Sununu’s latest bombast roll off his back.
“I’ll let General Powell’s statements stand for themselves,” Obama told Smerconish. “He spoke about the fact that my foreign policy during a very difficult time has been steady and strong. He talked about, with respect to our economy, that we are moving in the right direction…so any suggestion that General Powell would make such a profound statement in such an important election on anything but what he thought was what’s going to be best for America doesn’t make much sense.”
Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker was less forgiving, calling Sununu’s remarks “dumb.”
“Whether (Sununu) meant it or not, it was a statement that is unfortunate and reflects a lack of understanding and sensitivity,” Booker said Friday on CNN’s “Starting Point.” “He got himself in a jam, and he’s going to wear that jam for a while.”
Powell, a moderate Republican who endorsed Obama in 2008, surprised the president’s campaign by endorsing him again Thursday during an interview on CBS’ “This Morning.”
“You know, I voted for him in 2008 and I plan to stick with him in 2012, and I’ll be voting for he and Vice President Joe Biden next month,” Powell said.
Powell said he has the “utmost respect” for Romney but criticized his tax plan and called the former Massachusetts governor’s foreign policy a “moving target.”
In criticizing Romney’s foreign policy, Powell is taking a whack at some of Romney’s foreign policy advisers, neo-conservatives in President George W. Bush’s administration who pushed for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 17 of Romney’s 24 foreign policy advisers worked in the Bush administration.
Powell’s second endorsement of Obama riled Republicans beyond Sununu. Sen. John McCain of Arizona told Fox News Radio Thursday that “I used to be a great admirer of Colin Powell.”
“We were friends,” McCain said. “I think of the sad aspects of his career is going to the United Nations Security Council and telling them things that were absolutely false.”
McCain, whose career highlights include tapping then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate when he unsuccessfully ran for president in 2008, was referring to a speech Powell delivered to the United Nations that laid out the argument to go to war with Iraq.
Some of what proved to be erroneous intelligence information was at the time endorsed and supplied by Bush administration neo-conservatives who were eager to march into Baghdad and finish what the first President Bush didn’t in the first Gulf War.
Powell, who advocated a cautious approach on Iraq, was viewed as less than a team player by Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush neo-cons, some of whom are Romney advisers or supporters.