Retired Gen. Colin Powell, a moderate Republican who endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, says the president's critics should be going after him on policy, not "nonsense."
"Fringe" elements on the right are taking a low road when they label Obama a foreign-born Muslim and peddle other theories about non-American influences on the president's character, Powell said Sunday. Obama was born in the U.S. and is Christian.
The former secretary of state said he still sees Obama as a transformational figure, if one who has lost some of his ability to connect with people.
Powell welcomed Obama's policies in health care and education while saying the president may have taken on too many problems at once and not done enough to control the deficit.
"There are so many rocks in our knapsack now that we're having trouble carrying it," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Powell said the tea party may not become an enduring force unless it moves beyond slogans and promotes an agenda that people "can see, touch and actually believe in." It's not enough, he said, to call for goals that most Americans support, such as controlled federal spending and adherence to the Constitution.
And in challenging Obama, Powell said, "Let's not go down low. ... Let's attack him on policy, not nonsense."
Powell says he's not giving up on the GOP, despite its rightward drift, and says it might actually help Obama if Republicans win the House in November and gain responsibility for driving policy, not just opposing Democrats at every turn.