WASHINGTON — Dick Cheney made it clear Sunday that he would rather follow firebrand broadcaster Rush Limbaugh than former Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin L. Powell into political battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Even as Cheney embraced efforts to expand the party by former Govs. Jeb Bush of Florida and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and the House's No. 2 Republican, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the former vice president appeared to write his former 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."
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 to manage the Persian Gulf war in 1991 -- Powell as an Army general who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Cheney as Defense secretary.
Under the younger Bush, Powell initially backed action against Iraq's Saddam Hussein and delivered a famous United Nations 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, "a good thing to do," but set a limit on how far the Republican 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," Cheney said.
Powell has argued that the Republican Party needs to move toward the center and reach out to growing black, Latino and Asian communities, but instead has been shrinking because it hasn't changed as the country has 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."