He might be the only person in America who could mount a primary challenge to Trump that would make the race semi-interesting and who also has little to lose by doing so — contra Nikki Haley, say.
I don’t think he’ll do it. He has no domestic platform, and to the extent that there’s one available to him off the shelf that would distinguish him from Trump, that type of right-wingery was soundly defeated in 2016.
I wish he would get in, though, if only to see how Team Trump tries to attack him. You can’t trust Mattis, he’s a Democrat! But … he was Trump’s handpicked SecDef. (And actually, he’s an independent.) He worked for one of the world’s biggest con artists at Theranos! Again, didn’t bother Trump. And really, would MAGA HQ dare sneer at someone else about con artistry?
He won’t run. We’ll have to settle for a rousing Jim Mattis speech at the Democratic convention next summer, I suppose. In the meantime enjoy this excerpt from his new book and try to pick out the parts that are meant as thinly veiled criticisms of you-know-who. (Mattis only mentions Trump by name in recounting the facts of how we was chosen as Defense secretary.) Some are reeeeeally obvious, like the part that begins with “Wise leadership requires collaboration; otherwise, it will lead to failure”:
Nations with allies thrive, and those without them wither. Alone, America cannot protect our people and our economy. At this time, we can see storm clouds gathering. A polemicist’s role is not sufficient for a leader. A leader must display strategic acumen that incorporates respect for those nations that have stood with us when trouble loomed. Returning to a strategic stance that includes the interests of as many nations as we can make common cause with, we can better deal with this imperfect world we occupy together. Absent this, we will occupy an increasingly lonely position, one that puts us at increasing risk in the world.
Or this one, about partisan tribalism:
Unlike in the past, where we were unified and drew in allies, currently our own commons seems to be breaking apart. What concerns me most as a military man is not our external adversaries; it is our internal divisiveness. We are dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions.
All Americans need to recognize that our democracy is an experiment—and one that can be reversed. We all know that we’re better than our current politics. Tribalism must not be allowed to destroy our experiment.
I’m not sure how to take this anecdote, though, in which Mattis recounts admonishing a subordinate at NATO. It scans at first like a shot at Trump, a warning about how foul-tempered leaders gradually lose the faith of those who work for them. But note the bit about a “passion for excellence.” Trump has a passion for loyalty, not excellence.
When I served as Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, a new post created in 2002 to help streamline and reform NATO’s command structure, I served with a brilliant admiral from a European nation. He looked and acted every inch the forceful leader. Too forceful: He yelled, dressing officers down in front of others, and publicly mocked reports that he considered shallow instead of clarifying what he wanted. He was harsh and inconsiderate, and his subordinates were fearful.
I called in the admiral and carefully explained why I disapproved of his leadership. “Your staff resents you,” I said. “You’re disappointed in their input. OK. But your criticism makes that input worse, not better. You’re going the wrong way. You cannot allow your passion for excellence to destroy your compassion for them as human beings.”
Sounds familiar! — sort of. Ultimately, says Mattis, the boorish admiral reverted to his domineering ways and Mattis had no choice but to send his ass packing. And thus was the Mattis 2020 campaign narrative born.
No, no, I kid. But, having read this, I think it’s a little more likely that Mattis might join a coalition of former Trump advisors speaking out about the risks of a second term for POTUS, such as the one Anthony Scaramucci claims he’s trying to put together. And I do wonder how well Mattis would fare either as a primary challenger to Trump or as an independent candidate in the general election. He wouldn’t win either race, of course, but I can imagine him pulling, say, 20 percent in a Republican primary by dint of the sheer character contrast with Trump. In a general election he might go as high as eight to 10 percent, particularly if the Democrats nominate someone hard left and disaffected centrist voters go looking for a protest candidate. He’d do even better if he made the presidential debates; imagine the effect on public perceptions of Mattis onstage alongside Trump and Joe Biden, say. Best-case scenario: 15 percent on Election Day. Exit question: Which candidate would he take more votes from, Trump or the Democrat?