Dick Cheney made clear Sunday he'd rather follow firebrand broadcaster Rush Limbaugh than former Joint Chiefs chairman Colin Powell into political battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Even as Cheney embraced efforts to expand the party by ex-Govs. Jeb Bush of Florida and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and the House's No. 2 Republican, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, the former vice president appeared to write his one-time colleague Powell out of the GOP.
Asked about recent verbal broadsides between Limbaugh and Powell, Cheney said, "If I had to choose in terms of being a Republican, I'd go with Rush Limbaugh. My take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn't know he was still a Republican."
'Not as right as others would like'
Powell, who was secretary of state under President George W. Bush and held the nation's top military post under President George H.W. Bush, endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president last year. Nonetheless, since the election he has described himself as a Republican and a right-of-center conservative, though "not as right as others would like."
Cheney, citing Powell's backing of Obama over Republican nominee John McCain, said, "I assumed that that is some indication of his loyalty and his interests."
Cheney's remarks on CBS' "Face the Nation" were the latest step in his slow-motion estrangement from Powell since the two worked closely together to manage the Persian Gulf war in 1991 — Powell as the Army general who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Cheney as defense secretary for the elder Bush.
Under the younger Bush, Powell initially backed action against Iraq's Saddam Hussein and delivered a famous U.N. speech laying out the U.S. case. But Powell and Cheney increasingly parted ways over the Bush administration's policies on the war and terrorism, with Cheney usually prevailing. Powell left the administration after Bush's first term.
Wading into the debate over the GOP's future, Cheney called efforts by George W. Bush's brother Jeb, along with Cantor and Romney, as "a good thing to do," but set a limit on how far the party should go.
"The suggestion our Democratic friends always make is somehow if you Republicans were just more like Democrats, you'd win elections," Cheney said. "Well, I don't buy that. We win elections when we have good solid conservative principles to run upon."
More government, not less
Powell has argued the Republican Party needs to move toward the center and reach out to growing black, Hispanic and Asian communities, but instead has been shrinking because it hasn't changed as the country changed in the face of economic distress. "Americans are looking for more government in their life, not less," Powell said last week.
For months, Powell has urged the party to turn away from the acid-tongued Limbaugh. "I think what Rush does as an entertainer diminishes the party and intrudes or inserts into our public life a kind of nastiness that we would be better to do without," Powell said.
"Colin Powell is just another liberal," Limbaugh retorted. "What Colin Powell needs to do is close the loop and become a Democrat." Limbaugh said Powell is "just mad at me because I'm the one person in the country that had the guts to explain his endorsement of Obama. It was purely and solely based on race." Both Powell and Obama are black.
On other topics on the CBS interview, Cheney:
- said transferring suspected terrorists from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States would be a bad idea that would enlarge their legal rights. Obama's national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. James Jones, told ABC's "This Week" the White House isn't going to do that if it would make Americans less safe.
- reiterated his belief the U.S. has become more vulnerable to a potential terrorist attack since the Obama administration renounced harsh interrogation tactics such as waterboarding, which simulates drowning, that Cheney said provided good intelligence. Jones said he didn't believe the nation was at greater risk and that even some in the Bush administration disagreed with Cheney on that score.
- renewed his call for the administration to release two CIA memos he said list successes derived from those interrogations, including "attack planning that was under way and how it was stopped." The Obama administration is reviewing Cheney's request. Obama has said the memos are not so clear-cut and do not address whether the information could have been obtained without such methods.
- said he has been speaking out about the Obama administration although George W. Bush remains silent, because if he didn't, "then the critics have free run, and there isn't anybody there on the other side to tell the truth."