In the annals of American presidential elections there have been some truly harebrained schemes, candidates, and movements. And on occasion some legitimately improbable things have happened, like Ross Perot winning almost 20% of the popular vote as an independent candidate in 1992 or the election of Richard Mentor Johnson as vice-president in 1836. Most seemingly implausible ideas end up where they belong: relegated to the fringes of the process and amounting to little more than the occasional amusing but nonviable independent campaign like that of John Anderson (1980). Most daydreamed proposals – "unity tickets" and surprise candidates chosen by brokered conventions – are little more than interesting barroom hypotheticals at best.
It has to count as the strangest story of 2016, an election hardly lacking in the absurd, that on Sunday major online media outlets were suddenly reporting the (obviously, transparently planted) "story" of a supposed effort by "conservative billionaires" to draft retired Marine Corps general James Mattis for an independent presidential run.
I'll pause while you try to figure out who in the hell James Mattis is. Other than Mrs. Mattis and possibly some of their children, no one has ever heard of James Mattis. This story could not be any more ridiculous had a name been chosen from the phone book at random. There might as well be a secret campaign to draft Leon Smerczynski, a Paterson, NJ carpet layer, for an independent run.
Not to go full House of Cards here, but clearly someone who is very good pals with Tim Mak (the Daily Beast correspondent who was the first, and for a while only, "real" media outlet to give this the time of day, although we certainly could debate the description of Tina Brown's Puke Funnel as a "real" media outlet) asked Timmy to do them a solid and plant the seed to give legitimacy to an idea so astronomically stupid that it strains credulity to believe that it isn't an elaborate prank. An absolute nobody with no political experience, openly backed by shadowy, probably-Koch "conservative billionaires" is going to put together an independent presidential campaign less than 8 weeks before the deadline for ballot access in several important states? To whom exactly is this cipher going to appeal, even in theory? The most optimistic view of such a scheme is that it would fail miserably; in reality it is unlikely even to get off the ground if it is tried.
If any part of this is true, it is damning evidence of how completely conservatives are giving in to panic, irrationality, and magical thinking. Most likely it is yet another trial balloon being floated in a desperate attempt to derail the Trump Train before it can destroy the entire GOP, possibly with the intention of making whatever lunatic move they are planning next look sane in comparison.