U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said Thursday he has picked the tough-talking retired general, James Mattis, to be his defense secretary as he returned to his campaign roots in his first major public appearance since Election Day.
The splash of hard news came during a sea of soaring — and then blunt — rhetoric from the 70-year-old Republican billionaire following days of meetings about forming his cabinet.
“We are going to appoint ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis as our secretary of defense,” Trump told cheering supporters in Cincinnati, referring by nickname to the retired four-star Marine general who headed the U.S. Central Command, with authority over U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“He’s our best. They say he’s the closest thing to (World War II) general George Patton that we have,” Trump said, divulging his pick ahead of schedule after his transition team said there would be no more cabinet announcements this week.
He even stunned his own aides when he announced the Mattis pick from the stage.
Mattis is considered one of the foremost strategic thinkers of his generation, but to gain confirmation as Pentagon chief, he would need Congress to waive a requirement that a defense secretary be a civilian for at least seven years before taking up the post.
Mattis retired as chief of the U.S. Central Command in 2013 after serving more than four decades in the Marine Corps. There is no sense of strong opposition to his nomination in Congress.
Trump supporters were thrilled that he had hit the road again.
“That he wants to do this, to take time out of his schedule to fly out here and personally thank the people … shows what kind of man he is,” said Josh Kanowitz, 43. “He’s one of us.”
But while Kanowitz largely praised Trump’s initial moves as president-elect, he visibly recoiled at the suggestion that he might pick Mitt Romney as secretary of state, saying the 2012 Republican presidential nominee was “someone we should leave behind as we move forward.”
Others at the rally also expressed some hesitancy at Trump’s picks, with a few suggesting that choosing former Goldman Sachs partner Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary was not exactly fulfilling Trump’s campaign promise to “Drain the Swamp” and eliminate corruption and elitism from Washington.
The rally in Cincinnati was the second stop on a victory lap through the Midwest on Thursday, coming hours after Trump saluted workers, owners and himself at a Carrier plant in Indiana. There he declared that a deal to keep a local plant open instead of moving operations to Mexico was only the first of many business victories to come.