Powell could have been elected in 1996, in contrast with the sad farewell tour masquerading as a presidential campaign embarked upon by the otherwise heroic Bob Dole. The first black president of the United States being a Republican would have been a significant development, one that might have mitigated, if not averted, the ugly racialization of our politics.
Powell would have been a moderate not too strongly associated with the left or the right, likely allowing him to assemble an electoral coalition unlike anything we can imagine today. But as a Republican, he might have kept the Newt Gingrich Congress from going off the rails. The internet boom would have happened anyway; perhaps Powell’s policies would have been even more pro-growth than second-term Clinton’s.
It could have been something closer to the era of good feelings people wrongly imagine the Bush 41 years to be (Poppy Bush’s media coverage was only favorable compared to President Trump’s). A booming economy, a popular president backed by independents, no Whitewater investigations, no Monica Lewinsky, no impeachment. And maybe only one President Bush?