The effort to elect a general named ‘Mad Dog’ captures the craziness of the 2016 election

April 12, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 12, 2016

More and more political observers expect the Republican National Convention in July to be contested, meaning that businessman Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and possibly others will maneuver, overtly and otherwise, in an attempt to secure the presidential nomination.

The outcome of more than just one political race is at stake — the Republicans’ choice, and the manner in which it is made, could have a major impact on down-ballot races. Some have even speculated that G.O.P. control of both houses of Congress could be at stake, although that’s unlikely to happen in the House of Representatives thanks to gerrymandering. If the decision-making process is particularly acrimonious, some observers suggest, the Republican Party could crack up.

Trump has a numerical advantage in national delegates, but his team’s failure to grasp the fine points of the nomination process is exacting a toll. Last month, Slate’s Josh Voorhees wrote a detailed description of how a contested convention might work. Over the past week, political scientists Norm Ornstein and Francis Wilkinson have written about different possibilities, speculating which nominees might emerge under which scenarios.

The one thing everyone agrees upon is that the chances for turmoil are high. If someone other than Trump or Cruz are chosen (which he doubts will happen), Ornstein wrote, “the upheaval at the convention would probably make Chicago 1968 look like a picnic.” Wilkinson thinks that

[T]he outcome most likely to break the party is the one in which Republican elites crown one of their own. Such a candidate would be perceived as illegitimate — not by every Republican, surely, but by enough Trump and Cruz voters to court disaster.

The party can survive and lose with Trump. It can survive and possibly win with Cruz, who is wily enough to do better in a general election than many suspect. It’s not at all clear that the GOP can survive a Ryan or a Romney or a Kasich as its nominee. That just might provide the very death blow that party leaders fear.

Rather shockingly, a mysterious group is promoting an even more far-out candidacy. Tim Mak of The Daily Beast reported on Friday that about a dozen individuals are attempting to draft retired Marine Corps. Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis for a third-party presidential campaign. Mattis, a visiting fellow at Stanford University’s conservative-leaning Hoover Institute, doesn’t seem inclined to run, but that’s hardly the only flaw in this cockamamie scheme.

The plan involves the following sequence of events:

• The Republican Party nominates Trump for president.

• The reluctant candidate’s campaign staff gets Mattis on the ballot in several states.

• Mattis wins enough states to block either Trump or Clinton from getting the requisite 270 votes needed to win the Electoral College.

• The House of Representatives, which the 12th Amendment empowers to choose “from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President,” selects Mattis.

Nothing to it!

John Noonan, a former Jeb Bush aide who is backing the Mattis crypto-campaign, told Mak that “a great deal of Republicans would rally behind an American hero if the choice is between Mattis and Trump.”

Noonan also said: “Trump is a fascist lunatic and Hillary has one foot in a jail cell. That means the lunatic can win. I’d be first in line to plead with the general to come save America.”

It’s true that Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton could potentially be in legal hot water because of her failing to comply with federal protocols for handling e-mail when she was secretary of state. But as Politico’s Josh Gerstein reported on Monday, it’s unlikely that Clinton will be charged with criminal misdoing because her case lacks the aggravating circumstances that have been present in most of the prosecutions for mishandling classified material over the past 20 years:

The relatively few cases that drew prosecution almost always involved a deliberate intent to violate classification rules as well as some add-on element: An FBI agent who took home highly sensitive agency records while having an affair with a Chinese agent; a Boeing engineer who brought home 2,000 classified documents and whose travel to Israel raised suspicions; a National Security Agency official who removed boxes of classified documents and also lied on a job application form.

Clinton herself, gearing up for her FBI testimony, said last week that a prosecution is “not gonna happen.” And former prosecutors, investigators and defense attorneys generally agree that prosecution for classified information breaches is the exception rather than the rule, with criminal charges being reserved for cases the government views as the most egregious or flagrant.

So Clinton has yet to be charged with a crime, but one of the Mattis-for-president fantasists claims that she “has one foot in a jail cell.” And some rich conservatives seem to be throwing good money at organizing a dark-horse campaign for a candidate who probably wouldn’t agree to run. It truly seems like the 2016 presidential election has gone through the looking glass.

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