What appear to be many of former Secretary of State Colin Powell's emails were leaked Tuesday by the website DCLeaks.com, and they revealed quite a bit about what Powell is thinking this election season. Powell, who served under Republican President George W. Bush, reportedly referred to Donald Trump as a "national disgrace" and an "international pariah." However, there's no love lost between Powell and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who he slammed in an August 2015 email, as reported by The Intercept: "everything HRC touches she kind of screws up with hubris." He also reportedly wrote in another, point-blank, "I would rather not have to vote for her."
In this way, Powell is emblematic of the complicated situation that longtime members and elder statesmen of the Republican party now find themselves in, given their party's nominee. Trump has been accused of sexism and racism during a time when the GOP has publicly recognized its own issues reaching women, minorities, and young voters.
Both living former GOP presidents have refused to endorse Trump. Many of Trump's primary rivals, including Ted Cruz and John Kasich, have also refused to endorse him.
In the leaked emails, Powell appears particularly frustrated with Trump's attempts at reaching black voters. According to CBS News, Powell was sent a transcript of one of Trump's pitches to black voters, and his response didn't hold back:
There is nothing he can say that will sway black voters ... He takes us for idiots. He can never overcome what he tried to do to Obama with his search for the birth certificate ... the whole birther movement was racist ... And for him to say yesterday that within four years he would have 95% of blacks voting for him is schizo fantasy.
The birther movement is a perfect example of the so-called "establishment" GOP at odds with Trump. Birtherism — the inaccurate theory that President Obama wasn't born in America — has been a thorn in the side of many Republicans since Trump first popularized it in 2011. It is an attempt to delegitimize Obama, the first black president, with the false claim that he was born in Africa, and has been widely criticized for its deeply racist undertones. In one email, Powell wrote, "[Trump] appeals to the worst angels of the GOP nature and poor white folks."
Republicans who recognize their party's struggle and need to appeal to a more diverse cohort of voters than simply white men are left to watch from the sidelines as Trump redefines the image of the party. To them, and apparently to Powell, Trump is mutating the Republican party into something they do not recognize — and possibly can no longer support.