For a guy not running for the presidency, retired Marine Corps general James Mattis is drawing a lot of fire from those who seem to object to a war hero running for president in the event Donald Trump executes a hostile takeover of the GOP. The arguments against Mattis — or the idea of Mattis running — are shoddy at best.
The first argument is that he cannot win or even get on state ballots. As for ballot qualification, only Texas has an early May signature collection deadline. It is likely unconstitutional under the precedent established in 1983 by Anderson v. Celebrezze in which the court struck down Ohio’s ballot law requiring John Anderson to qualify by March 1980. Liberal Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the majority opinion:
Ohio’s filing deadline prevents persons who wish to be independent candidates from entering the significant political arena established in the State by a Presidential election campaign — and creating new political coalitions of Ohio voters — at any time after mid-to-late March. At this point developments in campaigns for the major-party nominations have only begun, and the major parties will not adopt their nominees and platforms for another five months. Candidates and supporters within the major parties thus have the political advantage of continued flexibility; for independents, the inflexibility imposed by the March filing deadline is a correlative disadvantage because of the competitive nature of the electoral process.
Moreover, even if Mattis were to miss a state deadline, the purpose of an independent run would not be eviscerated. A third-candidate run would serve three purposes. First, it would provide a mechanism for turning out GOP voters who are appalled by a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and who would otherwise stay home. Without a candidate who will attract the 40 percent of Republicans who say they will not vote for Trump, the House, Senate and other down-ticket Republican candidates will be trounced. Second, the idea of a third candidate would be to draw votes not simply from deep-red states (e.g. Texas) that would help Clinton, but to prevail in swing states such as Ohio, Florida and Virginia. If no candidate gets to 270 electoral votes, the House decides the presidency and the Senate picks the vice president. And finally, let’s be clear: If Trump is the nominee, we start with the proposition that Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to win the White House. Any effort — even a long shot — to reduce the chances that she will reach the Oval Office should be worth exploring.
The outline of a Mattis organization and funding apparatus are already in place, the Daily Beast reported:
The pro-Mattis donors, who want to stay anonymous for the time being, have assembled a core group of seven political operatives, led by Joel Searby, a Republican consultant based in Florida. The group of strategists also includes lead attorney Mohammad Jazil; ballot access specialist Matthew Sawyer; and former George W. Bush pollster Jan Lohuizen, along with a finance team and a “top firm” that has been secured to lead the ballot access petition gathering, members of the team tell The Daily Beast.
[Strategist Rick] Wilson and [John] Noonan co-authored a memo on how Mattis might capitalize on the current media environment, arguing that Trump’s “fake-macho act falls apart” before a bona fide American hero like Mattis. The general’s overall bearing “immediately blows a hole into the central narrative of Trump: his toughness,” they argue in a memo obtained by The Daily Beast. “[A]nd the drama of watching it fall apart under fire would be amazing television.”
And if we have learned anything from Trump, it is that the value of campaign donations is vastly overrated, and earned media is far more valuable. There is no doubt the former general, entering the race to save the country from the clutches of a narcissistic know-nothing and an ethically challenged career politician, would grab the media’s attention. The press is bored silly with both Clinton and Trump and would be thrilled to discover a straight-talking, witty general willing to take on both of them.
Another argument — that “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 . . . without a single voter casting a ballot for him” — is daft. First, the parties are not sending the message; the voters would be asked to support an independent candidate because the parties have failed to put forth a minimally acceptable candidate. Moreover, no one wins without voters in a general election casting lots of ballots for him or her. And lastly, I have no idea what a “bone-deep military man” is (as opposed to a veteran of many wars or “war hero”), but Mattis has exhibited a deep knowledge of U.S. history and constitutional government, including an overwhelming respect for civilian control. Before making him out to be a Caesarean, it would be wise to listen to him speak at length. (By the way, we have had 12 generals become president, many with no civilian political experience in between.)
A third commonly heard objection is that a third candidate’s run would somehow undermine Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), the candidate most likely to deny Trump the nomination. This is also specious. To begin with, if Cruz were sailing along, a third candidate would not be an option; it’s Cruz’s own weakness as a candidate that is provoking talk of a third candidate. Moreover, voters and delegates are smart enough to understand the concept of a backup plan. If Cruz wins, there will be little to no support for a third candidate. The realistic possibility that he will not is what requires advance strategizing about a Plan B.
The biggest problem is getting Mattis, or someone else, to run. We have observed that just when you think politics cannot get any lower, it does. Few quality people not possessing a distressing degree of ego want to run. Hence, we get characters such as Trump and Clinton. If we want someone possessing high ethical standards and great intellect, we would have to root around for someone willing to sublimate personal ambition, forgo private-sector security and wealth, and exert extraordinary discipline in the face of incoming fire. Come to think of it, it would take someone like Mattis to be willing to enter into the fray for no other reason than the protection of the republic. Let’s see whether he agrees to take on one more mission.