From Tony Harnden in Britain's Telegraph:
Amid much ballyhoo, Colin Powell, former Secretary of State in the Bush administration, went on "Meet the Press" last October and endorsed Barack Obama for President.
His move was no real surprise and had been anticipated for at least a year but the timing and manner of it seemed designed to wreak the maximum political damage to his old friend John McCain.
So why does Powell now seem to think he has the right or credibility to lecture Republicans on how their party should be run? Just as he did not just go quietly into the polling booth and vote for Obama, Powell is not working discreetly behind the behind the scenes at party gatherings to press his case.
No, he did his business on a Sunday television talk show, CBS's Face the Nation. . . .
In Britain, such an act by a Member of Parliament would lead to the party Whip being withdrawn - effectively casting an MP out of the party.
There is apparently no similar formal mechanism here in the US but Cheney was not being unreasonable in assuming that by publicly and forcefully endorsing a Democratic candidate Powell was voluntarily stepping out of the GOP.
Another Republican moderate was on television - Tom Ridge, former Pennsylvania governor and Homeland Security chief, who appeared on John King's State of the Union.
As expected, Ridge duly laid into Cheney and Limbaugh. Then, when he was asked whether he would support the Republican nominee in the Pennsylvania Senate race if it were (as is highly likely) Pat Toomey he pointedly declined to do so.
After Ridge said that he had a "secret ballot"and was "going to wait to see if the people that I know whom I might support decide to make the difficult decision to run"
King - as usual - posed exactly the right follow-up. "Why should any Republicans listen to you if you won't commit to voting for the Republican nominee?" King asked.
Ridge responded: "Well, it begins on the message and the messenger. You know, I'm a strong, strong, Republican, but I'd be - I've never, ever, ever voted straight Republican ticket in my life and I never will."
Well, that's fine and of course Ridge is entitled to vote for whoever he wants to, just as Powell is. My point is not that Powell and Ridge have not been fine public servants or do not have a huge amount to offer their country. It isn't even that their ideas about the Republican party needing to broaden its base if it is to return to power are not valid.
They may well be absolutely right.
But there's a reason why political parties exist, and party discipline matters.
Most parties rightly expect their senior members to vote for that party's candidates or if they do not at the very least to keep quiet about it. If not then the party is damaged.
For the time being, though, Republicans are being told what they must do by one man who will almost certainly vote for Obama in 2012 and another who will almost certainly vote for Senator Arlen Specter, a newly-minted Democrat, in 2010.