Can a Retired Marine General Nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’ Save the GOP?
Policy + Politics

Can a Retired Marine General Nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’ Save the GOP?

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

A retired four-star general from the United States Marine Corps is increasingly being touted as a possible savior for a Republican Party whose two leading presidential nominees are widely disliked, not just among the general voting public, but inside the GOP as well.

James Mattis, who retired from the service in 2013, led combat troops in the Persian Gulf War and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Along the way, he earned the nickname “Mad Dog” and went by the radio call sign “Chaos.” However, he was also viewed as a deeply intellectual leader, whose dedication to study and the Marines earned him yet another nickname: “The Warrior Monk.”

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Mattis’ final post in the Marines was as head of U.S. Central Command, but he also held a number of other top-level posts, including head of U.S. Joint Forces Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation. Within the Marines, Mattis is a near-legendary figure, and there have been low-profile efforts by former Marines, like this one, to draft him to run for president.

However, aside from the logistical challenges of getting a man largely unknown outside the military into a position to claim a major party presidential nomination, there are some major obstacles to a Mattis candidacy, the largest of which is that it’s unclear Mattis is even interested in the job.

A Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, the 65-year-old Mattis serves on the board of defense contractor General Dynamics and the troubled biotech firm Theranos.

He also delivers a lot of speeches, as he did at an event sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Friday. During the Q&A session afterward, the subject of a presidential run arose Mattis said, “No, I haven’t given any thought to it.”

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Another problem is whether a lifetime Marine with a reputation for blunt talk has the disposition to endure a general election campaign in which his every statement would be parsed by the media and criticized by opponents.

For example, after leading troops in Afghanistan, he made controversial remarks about fighting the Taliban. “Actually it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot,” Mattis said during a speech in 2005. “It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like brawling.

“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”

At the time, Mattis’ remarks drew a mild rebuke from the Marine Corps Commandant Michael Hagee, who conceded that Mattis “should have chosen his words more carefully.”

Recently, Mattis acknowledged his history of outspokenness.

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“I’ve lived a very colorful life and I’ve said some things,” Mattis said in remarks at Columbia Basin College in his home state of Washington last year, according to Marine Corps Times. “But not once have I taken them back, and I’ve never apologized for them — and I won’t. I like the enemy knowing there are a few guys like me around.”

It’s not clear this is a man who would be willing to temper his public persona in the way a successful presidential run would require.