Bryan McGrath notices something about the effort to draft Gen. Mattis to be the Republican nominee:
I had this very chat with a friend of mine on Facebook recently, and his view was that because he had such admiration for Mattis, it did not matter what the general’s political views were. And besides, how could a man he admired as much as Mattis possibly have political views antithetical to his own?
Putting aside the fallacy of assuming that someone’s political views are correlated with one’s character, this conversation revealed the vacuity of many in the pro-Mattis movement. To be precise, Trump’s supporters are just as enthusiastic about his character as Mattis’ are about his, and neither man has put forward a set of plans to address the hard problems we face. So while I respect Mattis and have no respect for Trump, I am equally at a loss to discern what it is Mattis would do if elected. The “Mattis for President” crowd is replicating behavior they find execrable in Trump supporters (cult of personality, lack of policy substance) and it is lost upon them.
I would add that many supporters of both probably don’t care about their man’s lack of policy substance, because they think they are voting for a competent and/or “strong” leader and the other details can be worked out later. It’s not just that Mattis’ fans are overlooking the deficiencies of the general’s imaginary candidacy, but that many of them probably wouldn’t be bothered by the lack of a policy agenda at all because they are getting behind him for entirely different reasons. The enthusiasm for both Trump and Mattis among their respective admirers isn’t based on what either man knows or what he would do, but rather in the fact that each one seems to exemplify what the other candidates aren’t offering. If Trump is the vehicle for protesting and rejecting conventional political leaders, Mattis has become the vehicle for anti-Trump Republicans that want to protest the demagogic front-runner. It ultimately doesn’t matter what the chosen alternative promises to do so long as he appears to be nothing like the political figures that the supporters want to reject. Insofar as Mattis seems to be the antithesis of Trump, that is what matters for many of his fans. Likewise, it is enough for many Trump supporters to decide to back him because he is so unlike the conventional politicians that have served them so poorly.
The main problem with any “white knight” or fantasy candidate is that he always seems much more appealing in the abstract before he is put under close scrutiny. Once he is put to the test, more often than not he falters and falls short of what his admirers thought he would be able to do. The enthusiastic booster can’t or won’t see the flaws in his would-be candidate, and he has every incentive to minimize the candidate’s weaknesses and discount the obstacles to his success in order to lure that person into the race and to make others perceive him as credible. That practically guarantees that either the “white knight” gets blindsided by unexpected problems or his supporters end up being disappointed that their “knight” is not as impressive as they thought he would be.