POWELL WEIGHS IN…. Several leading Republican figures, including Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh, have targeted Colin Powell lately, holding Bush’s former Secretary of State out as an example of what the GOP should avoid.

Yesterday, Powell responded to the criticisms, extending the prolonged discussion about the Republicans’ future.

“If we don’t reach out more, the party is going to be sitting on a very, very narrow base,” Powell said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “You can only do two things with a base. You can sit on it and watch the world go by, or you can build on the base.” […]

Democrats won the presidency and control of both chambers of Congress, he said, with a more inclusive approach that appealed even to many traditional Republican voting blocs. A retired four-star army general who also served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell called on Republicans to “define who we are, and not just listen to the diktats that have come down from the right wing of the party.”

Powell went on to argue that the efforts from Cheney and Limbaugh on ideological rigidity were a threat to Republicans, noting that the party “should be more inclusive” than it has been.

Powell added, “The Republican Party has to take a hard look at itself and decide, what kind of party are we? Are we simply moving farther to the right and by so doing simply opening up the right of center and the center to be taken over by independents and to be taken over by the Democrats?”

None of this is helpful to the GOP. Putting aside the argument over whether his reputation is deserved, Powell remains a respected public figure, held in high regard by most Americans. That he’s been marginalized by unpopular Republican leaders, forcing Powell to speak out as he did yesterday, only reinforces the perception that the GOP is out of step with the mainstream.

That said, even after having been ridiculed, even though he sees a party following “the diktats” of the far-right, even though he believes the party isn’t inclusive enough, and even though he sees the GOP giving up on the center, Powell nevertheless concluded, “Rush will not get his wish. And Mr. Cheney was misinformed. I am still a Republican.”

He did not, however, explain why.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.