Evan McMullin Wishes He Weren't Running For President
When speaking with very recently declared independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, there are moments in which running for the highest office in the land sounds like cleaning out one's gutters or rotating one's mattress. It's a responsibility he's taking on because someone needs to step up, but he wishes someone else had done it — and sooner. "I had been hoping that somebody else would do this for many months," McMullin tells me in response to my question about when he decided to make a White House run. Later on in our interview, he reiterates this sentiment, "I wish it had been done before. I wish it had been done by somebody with national name ID. But it didn’t happen, so it needed to happen."
When one considers the massive amount of work and media scrutiny that comes with running for president — let alone the financial and time commitments — it is amazing that McMullin says that he only made his final decision to run for president about 10 days before his announcement. "I mean, I had felt for a long time that someone needed to do this, but then after about 10 days of considering it, I came to peace with it and decided I would go ahead myself." Again, McMullin sounds more resigned and determined than anything else.
It's understandable that McMullin may not be as excited, enthusiastic, or remotely as egotistical as most people running for president of the United States. Unlike most presidential campaigns, this one really isn't about Evan McMullin; it's about having a conservative alternative to Donald Trump, one who isn't going to shame and implode the Republican Party.
McMullin is being presented as the conservative alternative to Trump. However, like Trump, he has never held elected office. Also like Trump, he would like Roe v. Wade to be overturned and denounced Obamacare as having "failed American families," according to his website. McMullin is noticeably more liberal than his Republican cohort — or at least, the Republican Party platform reflects it to be — on same-sex marriage. "It's time to move on," he said of efforts to fight the landmark Supreme Court marriage equality case, Obergefell v. Hodge. "My faith isn't everybody else's faith."
I find it deeply interesting that someone who, up until a few days ago, worked towards advancing the GOP won't identify as a Republican.
The most prominent differences between Trump and McMullin may not be found in policy difference or even style of rhetoric, but in the way that they're running their campaigns. The Republican presidential nominee often seems like he's running to take his egomaniacal grandstanding to a new level with little or no consideration for his party (or anyone who is not him), while McMullin appears to be running out of a sense of unglamorous, earnest obligation. McMullin seems to view himself as a cog in the anti-Trump machine; he just happens to be the one who would actually become president if it all worked out.
The former CIA operative and chief policy director of the House Republican Conference is more filling the third-party candidate hole that many suspected David French would back in May. French didn't launch a campaign, and with less than 100 days to go until the election, a former Republican staffer with even a lower profile than French's is that nominee.
While McMullin's presidential bid earned him a flurry of interest and questions about his background (former Goldman Sachs banker and Mormon missionary), there was one that wasn't asked: Seeing as he is openly challenging the party's presidential nominee, does he still consider himself a Republican?
McMullin pauses a bit before answering. "I’ll tell you this. This is how I think about myself: I’m an American first, then I’m a conservative, and then, then I think about party. The things I am am advocating for in this campaign, I think are universal, American."
In short, McMullin offers a deflection. I find it deeply interesting that someone who, up until a few days ago, worked towards advancing the GOP won't identify as a Republican.
Then again, when we talk about the two main candidates — Trump and Clinton — more of his ire is directed towards the Republican option. Consider one of his stronger critiques of Clinton: "We have a centralized government ... where power is far away from hard-working Americans. There’s little accountability. I think Hillary Clinton has illustrated that with the email server and other things she’s done."
Here's what McMullin has to say about Trump: "This is a guy who I believe is truly dangerous to our democracy. Even with the recent comments about inciting violence, the gun comment, I just feel like this is not a guy who can be trusted with our country. We should not have a president who, at every turn, incites violence among Americans. It just can’t happen."
And when I ask McMullin if he's received any backlash from Republicans, he refers to any critics as "Trump supporters," not Republicans. And, no, he's not worried about them.
"This is the thing: Trump was losing by 10 percent even before we entered the race, so the idea that we’re helping Trump lose and Hillary win is really the reverse of what is actually happening," he tells me. "Trump was losing badly before we entered. He is a deeply flawed candidate, who can’t even compete effectively against Hillary Clinton, who is not an ideal candidate, maybe one of the worst candidates the Democrats have fielded for president in quite some time. And Donald Trump can’t even compete with her. Every day he says some terrible, terrible thing."
In fact, McMullin goes so far as to suggest that Trump may very well drop out before his independent bid can stymie Republicans' presidential odds. "I’m not even sure he is even going to be able to make it through the campaign," McMullin says. "I’m just not sure. I think he’s collapsing."
Of course, this is almost a pot calling the kettle black situation: McMullin suggests Trump may quit before he can lose — but McMullin was, arguably, mathematically destined to lose before he even officially announced his candidacy.
It's already been widely reported that by the time McMullin announced his presidential bid on Monday, the majority of states' deadlines for getting on the ballot had already passed. Still, McMullin adamantly rejects the impossibility of his winning.
"That’s not true," he says with a frustrated energy that stands out from his noticeably even-keeled tone of voice. "There are multiple ways to get on ballots, there are petitions and there are associated deadlines. Some of those have passed, that’s true. But there are other ways to get on those ballots, and the information is out there now." He doesn't specify how in our interview, but stresses, "We’re going to be competing, and we see multiple paths to victory."
On Thursday, McMullin's chief strategist Joel Seerby, a Republican strategist who Reuters reported as working with Bill Kristol months ago to recruit a third-party candidate to challenge Trump, sent an email to campaign supporters stating:
There are several viable options to get on the ballot in all 50 states: petition gathering, working with minor parties that already have ballot access, legal challenges in states whose deadlines have passed, write-ins, or Republicans realizing that Trump is a defective nominee, and forcing him off the ballot.
In our interview, McMullin remains convinced the dissatisfaction American voters feel towards both major party candidates will carry him through in November. "The reality is that I think Americans are so hungry for something new that we’re getting a lot of opportunities to share our message in various ways," he tells me. "We’re going to work very, very hard until the end, so that every American can understand that there’s another choice there and, hopefully, we’re left with a better outcome in November."
Image: McMullin For President (1)