Evan McMullin: Option for #NeverTrump?

“So these are three major issues that the country faces: security, jobs, and government reform, and I think I am very well, uh, suited – certainly far better suited than the two major party candidates – to deliver that.” — Evan McMullin, independent presidential candidate, August 11th interview on The Glenn Beck Show.

When Evan McMullin came to Penn this February to outline his vision for the Republican Party, I was primarily impressed by the way his dry delivery created the unfortunate impression that he was as tired of delivering his speech as we were of listening to it.  His ideas were mostly bland – praising the “right to pursue happiness,” pointing out the bloated inefficiency of the Fed, underscoring the worldwide benefits of muscular U.S. hegemony, dribbling maladroit politicianese like “we need to make adjustments where needed,” and rounding out his speech with a paean to diversity.

Three weeks ago, still a virtually unknown former CIA agent, the same man announced that he was running for president.  At any other time he would have been ignored, but the insanity of this year’s election cycle put him in the national spotlight.  Conservatives unable to stomach the pro-choice (and strangely un-libertarian?) libertarian ticket, wondered if Evan McMullin might be a candidate they could vote for.

McMullin’s policy positions are center-right.  He is Mormon, pro-life, opposed to the death penalty, not interested in appointing Supreme Court justices who would overturn Obergefell v Hodges [the court decision redefining marriage to include same-sex unions], interested in pushing back against federal overreach of power, and in favor of robust U.S. intervention in the Middle East.  Pretty much Mitt Romney four years updated.

There is one significant difference, though: McMullin’s campaign focus is more anti-Trump than it is anti-Democrat or Clinton.  One ABC news reporter literally had to interrupt McMullin during an Trump-bashing tirade to ask, “what are your issues with Hillary Clinton?”  McMullin’s response?  “Look, 82% of Americans… find that we are on the wrong track as a country.  That’s an over 10% jump in just six weeks or so….  Both of these candidates are the least popular…”

When he, finally, got to his Hillary talking point it matched a tweet from August 22nd: “My issue with Hillary Clinton is her belief that she’s unaccountable to the American people.”  

This seems to be almost his only issue with Hillary Clinton.  As one National Review writer put it, “In three years of Facebook posts…. he never said anything on any specific issue that a diehard Democrat couldn’t applaud.”  Perhaps an exaggeration, but there’s little question that McMullin is an establishment Republican who puts out about five times more tweets against Trump that he does against Hillary Clinton.

So is McMullin a viable option for Republicans at Penn?  Penn’s College Republicans seem not to have decided yet, and though Republican clubs at Harvard and other schools have disavowed Trump and planned to focus on “campaigning for candidates who will uphold the conservative principles,” McMullin does not appear to be gaining their support yet.

Part of the problem is practical.  McMullin will probably not even be on the ballot in Pennsylvania – and at least 37 other states – because his campaign began too late to meet state deadlines.  At best, McMullin is likely to win about 6 electoral votes in the general election by taking the red #NeverTrump state of Utah.   With extraordinarily low name-recognition (he had about 135 Twitter followers before he went presidential) and a far from charismatic persona, he is not likely to be a strong write-in candidate.  His only path to office would be the quite unlikely event that he managed to keep both Trump and Hillary from earning 270 electoral votes – and then succeeded in getting the republican congress to support him instead of Trump.

At the end of the day, writing in Evan McMullin is a little bit like putting down the name of your favorite high school teacher.  Yes, he might be a much better person than the crook or the con.  But who’s going to elect him for president?

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