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A lot of what Colin Powell said was troubling him about his Republican Party during his Meet the Press appearance had to do with the ascent of religious conservatives. And nothing represents that ascent so starkly as Sarah Palin.

Here’s Powell yesterday:

And the party has moved even further to the right, and Governor Palin has indicated a further rightward shift. I would have difficulty with two more conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, but that’s what we’d be looking at in a McCain administration. I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no…

This is the latest indication of the widening chasm in the GOP between religious conservatives and the traditional party establishment. The reaction to Sarah Palin encapsulates the rift. It wasn’t till McCain picked Palin that the religious conservatives rallied to McCain’s side. But Palin has scared off much of the Republican establishment.

Peggy Noonan. George Will. David Frum. And now, Colin Powell.

This is the same chasm that split Republican supporters and opponents of Harriet Miers, President Bush’s evangelical Supreme Court pick in 2005.

Bush himself succeeded as a national candidate because he was able to unite religious conservatives and the party establishment. But so many of the party’s major national figures since then–think John McCain, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney–appeal to only one side or the other.

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