The low-key, desperate and increasingly watched campaign to draft retired general James Mattis into the presidential race ended this week, as the would-be-candidate slammed the door. As first reported by the New York Times's Alexander Burns, Mattis emailed Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol on Thursday, telling him that he would not join the race as an independent.
"He shut the door definitively," said John Noonan, a former national security adviser for Jeb Bush who was part of the group nudging Mattis, the head of U.S. Central Command from 2010 through 2013, into the race. Separately, in an email to some of the people being approached for roles in the draft campaign, Noonan said they were "standing down on this for the time-being."
The Mattis campaign, if it can be called that, was no lark. Depending on when an observer started the clock, it lasted longer than the actual presidential campaign of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R).
July 15: For the first time, Mattis responds to the occasional but persistent calls for him to run for president. (The idea, at the time, was for him to enter a party primary.) After a speech at Columbia Basin College, an excited listener asks Mattis whether he could be convinced to seek the White House. "No," Mattis says. "It's time for younger people, especially veterans, to run for office."
Feb. 22: As Donald Trump rampages through the early primaries, a sector of the conservative elite starts talking up Mattis. The retired general is in the audience at a Hoover Institute fundraiser; spotting him, Kristol says he might be convinced to run for president. "No way," Mattis says.
March 25: The Daily Caller's Jamie Weinstein asks Mattis about the new White House scuttlebutt. "Search Mattis’ name on Twitter and you will find nearly two dozen mentions just this month by Americans longing for the former commander of U.S. Central Command," he writes.
Mattis is unmoved. "Haven’t seen the reports and I’m quite sure it’s just idle talk," he says.
April 8: The Daily Beast's Tim Mak publishes the first comprehensive report on the Draft Mattis campaign, based on conversations with Noonan and the six memos the group had been distributing. For the first time, a rationale and strategy is made public. Mattis is being pitched a sort of fulcrum campaign, one where he could deny both Hillary Clinton and Trump the 270 electoral votes needed to the secure the presidency, throwing the election to a House that would, naturally, support him.
"Trump is a fascist lunatic and Hillary has one foot in a jail cell," Noonan tells Mak. "That means the lunatic can win. I’d be first in line to plead with the general to come save America."
April 9-28: This is the apogee of the Mattis campaign, as the idea becomes well-known enough to inspire takes, countertakes and memes. On April 11, The Post's columnist David Ignatius lists Mattis first among "five military leaders Republicans could draft for a run for president." On April 15, the Federalist joins the Weekly Standard to push Mattis. On April 24, Kristol talks Mattis up on ABC News's "This Week," pronouncing an independent campaign "totally doable." On April 26, The Post's Jennifer Rubin states that 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," and explains why they are wrong.
April 29: The dream ends, officially; Kristol insists that the campaign to find a non-Trump, non-Clinton candidate will go on.