As RNC Starts Settling For Trump, Neocons Declare War, Hunt For Third Party Candidates
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” This iconic Cool Hand Luke quote seems to be the rallying cry of the Republican National Committee as it attempts to whip the disparate caucuses of the Republican party into accepting the inevitability of Donald Trump’s nomination as the party’s presidential candidate. Some of the most powerful groups within the GOP are adamantly opposed to this outcome. Several thought leaders of the Neocons are feverishly searching for viable candidates to run on a third-party ticket, on a traditional conservative platform. As it intensifies, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has hit the talk shows telling them to stop.
The leader of the effort to draft a third party candidate is Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and chief Iraq invasion apologist. In March, Kristol told Newsmax,
“The Republican Party should have a spokesperson for conservative principles who is actually qualified and has the character to be president. Two, I think it would help down ballot. People like me don’t want to vote for Trump. We’re certainly not going to vote for Hillary. We will come out and vote, otherwise we could stay home. And third, we don’t know how Donald Trump does in a general election. I think the bottom could fall out. I think an awful lot of Americans could get worried about having Donald Trump as commander-and-chief and I would like to have a respectable conservative Republican as an alternative.”
On Wednesday, I reported that Kristol was aggressively peddling the idea of retired Marine Corps General James Mattis running on a third party ticket as a “patriotic American.”
On Friday, though, Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin, who is in cahoots with Kristol in lobbying for a third party candidate, reported that Mattis had said “No.” to Kristol’s overture. Rubin and Kristol were quick to fill the void with brainstorming about other possible candidates who could serve the Neocons’ agenda.
Neocons Search For Alternative To Trump
Rubin weighed the pros and cons of Mitt Romney running as a third party candidate, but concluded that it would be a “mediocre idea.” Rubin laid out all the other choices she thinks are plausible.
The idea of Mattis was intriguing because a candidate somewhat above the fray, strong on national security, solid in character and possessing considerable executive experience is a plausible alternative to the know-nothing Trump and the ethically flawed Clinton. There is Robert Gates, who served in both Bush and Obama administrations and with Clinton, of all people, and is among the most qualified public servants out there with experience as head of the CIA and two tours as defense secretary. Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld and therefore cannot be tagged with the decision to go to war in Iraq, but can be credited with putting it on an even keel — before President Obama precipitously pulled the plug. He is media savvy and has wide name ID without being a politician. And there are others including, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno (Ret.) and Gen. Mike Hayden (Ret.) (who also headed the NSA and CIA), who like Mattis would provide national security expertise, defy political classification and possess fine character.
Then there are retired Republicans, those who do not have at risk their future in the party (if the party survives at all). Former senator Jon Kyl of Arizona is one who comes to mind. He has been continuing work on national security challenges along with former senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who, come to think of it, might be a potential running mate and is already an independent, having left the Democratic Party. Former Texas governor Rick Perry (who earned a lot of respect this time around), former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, former New Hampshire governor and senator Judd Gregg come to mind.
I have to agree with Rubin that Gates would be a formidable third-party candidate for the Neocons. Gates has some of the most top-level executive experience in recent years of anyone in the country, and would be seen as a genuine Independent, having served under both presidents Bush and Obama. He is a highly professional no-nonsense operator and would be able to expose Trump as wildly out of his depth, while also being able to criticize Hillary Clinton with insider information. However, there’s no evidence that he or the two generals are interested in a doomed mission on behalf of the Neocons. Furthermore, Gates was brought in by Bush largely to take over Defense after the Neocons, who were so powerful in his first term, royally screwed everything up. So it’s not clear that Gates would even want to help the Neocons.
The other candidates she floats are laughable. Jon Kyl did not run for president when he was in his prime, why would he do so now that he’s a 74-year-old corporate lobbyist? Joe Lieberman is not the kind of Independent who can cobble people together, quite the opposite. He’s been in the wrong place at the wrong time repeatedly, which is why he’s no longer a Democrat or an employed politician. He was Al Gore’s VP nominee in 2000, which accomplished nothing for Gore, and he was an ardent chickenhawk and Iraq war apologist of the type that moderate Republicans have come to loathe. Rick Perry did not “earn a lot of respect” in the primary. He was one of the first to drop out. The klieg lights of a national campaign consistently expose the fact that he’s an intellectual featherweight. Tim Pawlenty ran for president in 2012, and was one of the first Republicans to drop out of the race. Much like catastrophically failed candidate Jeb Bush, Judd Gregg has not held elected office in nearly a decade.
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Before Mattis officially said no, Kristol tweeted about ideas he was considering.
Just spitballing here. Lots of varieties of indie tickets: Centrist: Mattis-Rhee. Young: Sasse-Kinzinger. Conservative: Gen. Kelly-Cotton.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) April 23, 2016
These are as preposterous as Rubin’s. Since he’s not using first names, I’m assuming when he mentions “Rhee” as a VP for Mattis, he’s referring to Michelle Rhee. While an Asian-American woman as VP nominee would certainly be a bold statement of inclusion, it’s not clear who Rhee would appeal to. Rhee was the consummate education hawk who rammed radical reforms down the throat of Washington D.C.’s public schools, while angering parents and teachers alike. No Child Left Behind-type education reform may be popular with the Republican establishment’s union-gutting corporate backers, but it’s not much of a constituency. Ben Sasse and Adam Kinzinger are “young,” indeed. They are both first-term Republican Senators from the Midwest. Sasse is 44, and Kinzinger is 38. They are both younger than anyone who has ever been elected president.
I nearly spat tea at the screen when I read Tom Cotton’s name. Bill Kristol made Tom Cotton when he raised $1 million for the Super PAC “Emergency Committee for Israel,” which was a pro-Cotton Super PAC, and had nothing to do with Israel. Cotton has been trying to undermine US foreign policy since he got into office. That might endear him to the Neocons, but how do they think that would fly with the national general electorate? The idea of 38-year-old foreign policy agitator Cotton on a national ticket so soon after entering the Senate demonstrates that this effort might be more about raising Kristol’s profile as power broker within the party, than doing what is good for conservatism.
If Kristol, Rubin and the Neocons do manage to convince a pair of conservatives to run a third party campaign, they would almost certainly be doomed. Kristol’s effort would virtually guarantee the election of Hillary Clinton. However, given the energy in the Republican presidential primary, both for and against Trump, conservatives could see high voter turnout in November if there were two conservative tickets. Trump and the third-party candidate would split the vote at the top, but Kristol is right that it would help down-ballot candidates. Clinton could become president and have to contend with the same deeply conservative Congress, state legislatures and governors that have plagued the Obama presidency.
Featured image by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images and Scott Gries/Getty Images
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Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.