Will Colin Powell Back Romney or Obama?

Will Colin Powell support Mitt Romney? Powell, who has just published his latest memoir, It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership, isn't saying if Romney will work for him. On National Public Radio's All Things Considered, he stuck to his message that it's too early to tell: "I'm not prepared to say," the general announced.

Is this Powell's vaunted exit strategy? After endorsing Barack Obama in 2008 is Powell having second, or even third, thoughts? Or is he simply waiting to see if Romney can recapture the moderate Republican mojo that George H. W. Bush personified and that the dauphin Bush willfully flung aside, embroiling America in two wars seemingly without end, exhausting the national treasury and stirring up a lot of bad feelings around the globe, not to mention inveigling Powell into putting his credibility behind a bogus appearance at the United Nations alleging that Saddam Hussein was in possession of a treasure chest of weapons of mass destruction that America had no choice but to destroy, only to discover, upon invading Iraq, that they never existed in the first place, despite all the administration's rodomonate about doomsday lurking in the sands of Baghdad?

It's hard to know. Powell has always been prone to Delphic utterances. He is more diplomat than general. Generally speaking, he stands for a good chunk of the moderate establishment, which is fuming over its internal exile from the GOP. In his book Rule and Ruin, the historian Geoffrey Kabaservice traces the rise and mostly fall of the moderates over the past few decades. His book is extensively reviewed by Sam Tanenhaus in the New York Review of Books. Tanenhaus detects a distinct lack of enthusiasm among conservatives for Romney, who are as disaffected with Republican moderates as they (the moderates) are with the insurgent Tea Party:

GOP chieftains, including House Speaker John Boehner and the arch-conservative Senator Jim DeMint, a Tea Party favorite, have said the time has come for the party to rally around the front-runner. Yet these endorsements have sounded more dutiful than enthusiastic. DeMint’s came on the same day, March 22, that Santorum, barnstorming in Texas, suggested that if the options in November came down to Romney vs. Obama, the incumbent would be preferable since “we might as well stay with what we have.”

Yet the Washington Post points out that unrest exists in the Democratic party with Obama as well. Now the Democratic party is unlikely to experience the kind of convulsions that the GOP is experiencing as long as it controls the White House. But if the Democrats lose the White House and the Senate, it's probably not fanciful to suspect that a searing debate would erupt between the Left and the remnants of the Blue Dog Democrats. In the 1980s and 1990s, centrist Democrats argued the party had to march rightward to recover its electoral fortunes. Today, the reverse might occur after 2012.

The running room for moderates, in other words, is shrinking. The deference that establishment figures such as Powell have long commanded is quickly evaporating. Republican grandees such as Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel have essentially been tossed out of the party. Which is why it ultimately may not matter what Colin Powell thinks about either Romney or Obama. Many Americans may legitimately conclude: Who cares?