"[The late Democratic National Chairman] Ron Brown was on one side of General Powell and I was on the other," Rep. Gary Franks, R-Conn., told Newsmax in 1991, recalling a Washington, D.C., reception of Black leaders.
Brown, he said, "grabbed one of his arms and shouted 'He's ours!' Then I grabbed the other and shouted 'No, he's ours!' And the general loved it!"
The jocular behavior around the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by two prominent Black political leaders from each major party was, to this reporter, a clear illustration of how much Colin Powell, who died Monday at 84, was in demand in those days.
Within 24 hours of Powell's death, speculation was rampant on whether Powell, like Dwight Eisenhower before him, could have made the leap from a general's uniform to presidential civilian clothes.
Most evidence suggests it would have been a very long shot.
The first Black American to serve as National Security Adviser, under Ronald Reagan, and then be named to the JCS chairmanship, like many senior military officials, had never said whether he was a Democrat or a Republican.
Powell did volunteer that, as a young U.S. Army officer in 1964, he voted for Democrat President Lyndon Johnson because of his championship of civil rights over Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater, who voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In the 1980s, when Goldwater was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he and Powell became good friends.
After retiring from the military in 1995, Powell did proclaim himself a Republican — albeit a centrist Republican in the mold of the late New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, supporting federal government involvement in certain issues and opposing the cultural positions, such as opposition to abortion, that were emblematic of the rising conservative wing of the GOP.
Widely mentioned for president in 1996, Powell quickly removed his name from consideration. Sources close to the late general say his wife Alma, worried that talk of her husband as "the first Black president" might arouse a potential assassin, vetoed any talk of a candidacy.
Powell did support other Republicans for office, notably Kansas Sen. Bob Dole for president in 1996 and fellow Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel in his winning bid for the U.S. Senate from Nebraska that year.
When Powell-for-President talk was rampant, media maestro Stuart Stevens recalled, "I worked for Dole in the 1996 Republican [primaries]. We put Powell on a poll ... What I remember most was Powell winning the Republican primary in Mississippi and every southern state. Not sure it would have played out that way but it was fascinating to consider."
"Not sure it would have played out that way" is a good way of putting it. At a time when full-fledged conservatives such as Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes forced the more moderate conservative Dole to move to the right, it is difficult to see how Powell — who wore his centrist views like a military decoration — could have survived the primary process in 1996.
"He would not have won a primary without first serving in elected office," said Henry Olsen, historian and Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. "He could, though, had he been the vice president. The non-movement conservatives who rejected [Vice President Dan] Quayle and backed Dole in '96 would have flocked to Powell if he had proved to be an able and loyal Veep."
Olsen was referring to the talk in 1988 that Powell — then a colonel and Reagan's National Security Adviser — be tapped as the runningmate of the certain GOP presidential nominee, Vice President George H.W. Bush.
Jack Kemp, himself destined for the veep slot with Dole on the 1996 ticket, began suggesting Powell for vice president shortly before their party's national convention. This was before he became world-famous as America's top military officer during Desert Storm.
It is hard to believe that Bush, who chose Quayle primarily to reassure skeptical Republicans about his conservatism, would have ever turned to someone so new on the national scene and whose views and affiliation were unknown.
Powell, of course, in 2008 supported Barack Obama over John McCain (whose candidacy for president in 2000 he backed) and, four years later, endorsed Obama over Mitt Romney. In 2016, he called Donald Trump "a national grace" and voted for Hillary Clinton and later Joe Biden.
By that time, Powell said he no longer considered himself a Republican. It is safe to say that many who were active within the party felt that about him years before Trump was on the scene and that's why, in all likelihood, he would not have been nominated for president.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
© 2021 Newsmax. All rights reserved.