An Ex-Powell Aide Explains Why the Time Is Right for an Obama Endorsement–UPDATED

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UPDATE: On Sunday, Colin Powell did endorse Barack Obam. Appearing on Meet The Press, he presented an eloquent statement of support in which he hailed Obama’s “transformational” role, leadership ability, and intellectual curiosity. Powell emphasized that he believed that John McCain, his longtime friend, could be a good president, but he maintained that the GOP has become too much in hock to its right-wing base and that Sarah Palin was not at all ready to be president. Despite Powell’s tarnished reputation–due to his starring role in the Iraq WMD fiasco–his unequivocal endorsement is a boost for Obama and yet one more problem for McCain. The below piece was written before Powell did the deed, but note Larry Wilkerson’s explanation of the timing of Powell’s endorsement. In this instance–unlike when he backed Bush’s invasion of Iraq–Powell stuck to the Powell Doctrine, at least the Powell Doctrine of Decision-making….

With NBC News reporting that Colin Powell will appear on Meet the Press this Sunday, speculation is mounting that former Republican secretary of state will endorse Barack Obama for president. Politico reports

Retired Gen. Colin Powell, once considered a potential running mate for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), now may endorse his opponent, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), according to Republican sources. But an air of mystery surrounds Powell’s planned live appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and no one is sure what he will say.

Note the use of the word “may.”

Predicting the most anticipated endorsement of the 2008 campaign has been a pundit standby for months. In June, Robert Novak asserted, “Powell probably will enter Obama’s camp at a time of his own choosing.” In August Bill Kristol declared that Powell would endorse Obama at the Democratic convention and “quite possibly” speak at the convention. Last week, Lawrence O’Donnell wrote, “It now seems beyond doubt that Colin Powell will endorse Barack Obama and thereby hammer the final nail in the coffin of the Republican campaign to hold onto the White House.” He cited no sources.

Will Powell take the leap this weekend? In tracking the Powell story these past few months, I have periodically checked in with Larry Wilkerson, who was Powell’s chief of staff at the State Department and who had worked with Powell in a variety of positions going back to 1989. Wilkerson always said the same thing: with Powell, it’s all about the 60-percent rule–that is, the general manner in which he makes big decisions. Wilkerson explains:

Powell has a continuum he uses. It’s based on time and information. Most people make mistakes because on this time/information continuum, they either decide too fast, with too little information, and thus make a bad decision, or they wait to get perfect information and then are a day late, and a dollar short–too late with their decision to influence events. Powell believes the optimum point is 60 percent. That is, if you have roughly 60 percent of the available information–and, in a perfect coincidence–are at about 60 percent of the elapsed time–that is when you are most apt to make the best decision. In the case of this political campaign this process translates into Powell’s having at least a 3-2 chance of being on the winning side were he to endorse, and that he does it early enough to still influence the result.

Voila! Obama has opened a wide enough lead in the polls that he has become a betting favorite. A 3-to-2 favorite? Maybe. And if you start the clock at the conclusion of the GOP convention, the general election hit the 60-percent point last Sunday.

By Wilkerson’s explanation, the circumstances are indeed in place for a Powell endorsement this weekend. At this stage–with Obama opening a lead, McCain failing to win the last debate, the economic crisis continuing to dominate the news, and not much time left for a major change of direction in the campaign–such an endorsement would be rather significant but it would also be only 60-percent gutsy.

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