There are a thousand good answers to this question. You know what mine would be — fiscal iceberg, dead ahead — but there’s no shortage of big-picture criticisms available to either side. Even Obama’s rote self-serving answer, that he needs to put more effort into his messaging to move his agenda, has some truth to it. Powell’s answer? He needs to reach out more to both sides, which quickly mutates into a lament about … Birtherism. Imagine being given a major network platform on Inauguration Day and invited to offer one key piece of advice to the president as he starts his second term, and your first thought is to harangue your own party for a conspiracy theory whose heyday was three or four years ago. This is why it’s become so hard to take Powell seriously, even if you’re not normally inclined to point and shout “RINO” at every centrist Republican within earshot. There’s simply no way that a thoughtful commentator would offer a response this trivial to a question of this magnitude. It stinks of brand burnish, especially since he once had his priorities straight. He’s so accustomed to being fawned over as the Republican who disdains the Republican Party that he now seems to lapse reflexively into that mode unbidden. It’s almost shtick. Even the preface to the Birther stuff, about making nice with Congress and the opposition, is mindless “No Labels” boilerplate meant less as constructive advice than as a signal of how “reasonable” the speaker is. And the punchline is, when it came time for Obama to address the country today, outreach was nowhere to be found. The One isn’t so “reasonable,” it turns out, and he’s more successful because of it.
Speaking as a noted RINO myself, let me lay down a little litmus test for fellow squishes. If ever you’re asked this question and your answer doesn’t involve the words “16 trillion” and “entitlements,” you’re no longer a RINO. You’re a left-leaning independent. At best.