Warrior Monk is not going to be President Monk. So what’s up with the drive to draft him?
Retired four-star Gen. James Mattis — known as “warrior monk” to some, “mad dog” to others — is the latest supposed white knight being floated to save the Republican Party from itself. But while the brilliant Marine is rightly revered, the plan to draft him is actually another symptom of the GOP’s disease, not the cure for what ails it.
In other words, it’s not you, general. It’s us.
The draft-Mattis chorus has gotten loud enough that the general was asked about it — again — after a speech Friday. But it poppled on the radar a few weeks ago, when the Daily Beast reported, “Close to a dozen influential donors — involving politically-involved billionaires with deep pockets and conservative leanings — are ready to put their resources behind Mattis. At their request, a small group of political operatives have taken the first steps in the strategic legwork needed for a bid.”
Bored billionaires and a bumper crop of Republican consultants: What could possibly go wrong?
A couple things.
Just to be clear: The reasons this is a terrible idea don’t involve any personal failings on Mattis’ part.
The head of US Central Command from 2010 to 2013 at the tail end of his 42 years in the service, Mattis earned the “warrior monk” moniker with his voracious reading habit: By the end of his career, his “work” library had reached some 7,000 books. He’s a man of history, whip-smart and with enough humility to know what he doesn’t know. But he’s not remotely a winning presidential candidate — certainly not in 2016.
The three most obvious problems with the draft-Mattis drive are:
1) He has no path to victory. The Daily Beast story says the billionaire backers think the strategy is to have him file as an independent (third-party) candidate, win a few really important states and keep Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (or Ted Cruz) from winning 270 electoral votes. That tosses the race to the House of Representatives, which (in this telling) would surely choose a decorated leader like Mattis over the Democrat and Republican.
In fact, even getting on the ballots of all 50 states is an expensive challenge; some deadlines for filing signatures land next month. And no third-party candidate has won any state for decades — most states are in fact a lock for one of the two major-party candidates.
The other strategy is to somehow get Mattis nominated at the Republican convention. Sorry: Even after the first ballot (should Trump not win right there), Trump and Cruz have almost 1,400 delegates between them already — more than enough to deny anyone else the nomination.
The convention’s just not going to pick a guy who didn’t run, seems imposed on the party’s grass roots by its elite and whose positions on domestic policy are mostly a mystery.
That brings us to the second problem: If this takes off, it’ll take the remaining air right out of the Cruz campaign — supposedly the one viable candidate remaining in the race, and the one the stop-Trump troops at least theoretically hope to boost.
By not spending their time and energy on existing candidates, they send the message that while they don’t want Trump to win, they don’t believe in any of the other candidates, either.
By batting their eyelashes at Mattis, they’re telegraphing the fact that they’ve given up on Cruz, who already has more than 500 delegates himself. And if that helps Trump pick up any more momentum, he’ll have the nomination locked up before the convention — making the Mattis flirtation irrelevant.
And third, there’s what I like to call the Eisenhower Temptation: The desire to go running into the arms of a hero general.
“It’s Eisenhower Time for the Republicans,” blared the headline of an op-ed in Monday’s Wall Street Journal by former Air Force Secretary Thomas Reed. After mentioning some GOPers’ desire to parachute in a white knight at the convention, Reed writes, “How about handing the parachute to a military hero?”
How about not?
Even putting aside the differences between Ike and Mattis (or Ike and every proposed savior-general since; last time it was David Petraeus), the fact is the parties should avoid sending the message that American politics is so messed up as to warrant handing over the presidency to a bone-deep military man — even a retired one — without a single voter casting a ballot for him.
Plus, the wars Mattis came to prominence prosecuting are still going on. At least World War II was over by the time Ike ran for president. Do we want the guy leading a war to retire and take over as president during that same war?
Americans are lucky to have James Mattis, and they are right to admire him. But they should admire him from a distance.