Why Bill Clinton’s Advisers Considered Colin Powell a Threat

Mar 14, 2014 3:04pm
GTY bill clinton colin powell sk 140314 16x9 608 Why Bill Clintons Advisers Considered Colin Powell a Threat

(Joseph Barrak/AFP/Getty Images)

Colin Powell for President? It’s a possibility that was once a concern for President Bill Clinton’s advisers, according to newly released documents from his presidency.

Powell, a respected African-American general and a Republican, has been consistently rumored as a potentially formidable presidential candidate.

And Clinton’s advisers were among those who reasoned that if Powell pursued presidential ambitions, it might hurt Clinton.

Leading up to a planned Summit on Service in Philadelphia in 1997 that would involve Powell and former President George H.W. Bush, a Clinton outside adviser warned that Clinton’s cooperation with two prominent Republicans, and especially Powell, could backfire.

“[T]he summit risks becoming a showcase for an ex-President’s private philanthropy (noncivic) approach to service and a four year national platform on which a prospective President (General Powell) can run against you and the Vice-President on what should be YOUR issue,” political theorist Benjamin Barber wrote in a 1997 memo to Clinton.

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Barber added that he feared that the Summit could become “a perfect platform for General Powell to spend for years in the limelight talking about your issues.”

Powell had been rumored as a potential Clinton challenger in 1996, but he ultimately chose not to run.

Earlier, a 1995 memo by Clinton speechwriter David Shipley warned that by addressing race after the O.J. Simpson trial, Clinton could preempt Powell, who was viewed as someone who could bridge the country’s racial divide.

“This is a defining moment. The country is waiting for the President to talk. He is one of the few American leaders with the credibility to address both blacks and whites – more than the G.O.P.; almost as much as Powell,” Shipley wrote. “In fact, if he demonstrates that he can bring people together now, he could preempt the vision of Powell as the only leader who can erase division and bring us together.”

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