Is Evan McMullin the person disillusioned Republicans have been waiting for?
The #NeverTrump movement finally has its candidate
Rick Wilson has been waiting for this moment since March. A Republican consultant and former campaign advisor, Wilson is a steadfast supporter of the #NeverTrump movement and hasn’t just been praying for an alternative to Donald Trump, he’s been actively seeking one out.
“As every candidate fell by the wayside we started to talk to other people about running as an independent – Mitt Romney, General James Mattis — all of the usual suspects,” said Wilson, who has been involved with the group Better for America to find an independent candidate. “We really worked our tails off trying to find a viable candidate with a name ID and viable resume that fits all of the values that people in the center-right believe in.”
Mattis didn’t want the job. Mitt Romney made some fiery speeches but ultimately decided against another run. Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, who is known for his anti-Trump Facebook posts, was considered but wasn’t interested. Other familiar Republican mainstays like Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell were pitched, committees were formed to explore their viability, but ultimately nothing stuck.
Come August, mainstream Republicans opposed to Trump were struggling with their choices: vote for Trump anyway, bite the bullet and vote for Hillary Clinton, or sit out the election all together. Yet Wilson still held out hope that someone would step up. Then last week, someone did: Evan McMullin.
“We still didn’t have a candidate and Evan’s name wasn’t on my radar screen before this got started,” said Wilson, “I’m cynical. I’ve done this a long time. I don’t fall in love with a candidate lightly and go home and say, ‘Oh my God this will change everything,’ but when I met Evan I recognized there’s something in this guy that if we got him out here it would be a safe haven for people. There’s a decency in this guy combined with strength.”
McMullin’s name doesn’t carry the weight of a Romney or a Rice. In fact, before last week, most Americans hadn’t heard of him and probably still haven’t. A former operations officer for the CIA, McMullin spent most of his life out of the limelight. His experience in politics is limited to his time as chief policy director for Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. Most recently, he worked in the private sector at Goldman Sachs. But McMullin was the only one willing to step up to the plate as an alternative to Trump, and that alone was enough for him and Wilson to go full-speed ahead.
Speaking to McMullin a week after his announcement, it doesn’t quite seem like reality has set in for him. After being involved with Better for America for months, he knew somebody had to throw their hat in the ring. But he still talks about his run as if it’s a group effort frequently saying “we” when giving specifics about his plans.
“I have been hoping that somebody else would step up. I thought certainly somebody else with national name ID would step into the race months and months ago. It did not happen,” he told DecodeDC. “It needed to be done, so I decided to do it.”
With less than three months to go until November, there’s little time to spare. McMullin’s campaign came out of the gate with an all out media blitz. He’s slowly working his way through more than 500 interview requests while his team is working to meet remaining ballot deadlines and hiring lawyers to challenge the states where the ballot deadline has closed. So far, the McMullin campaign has registered as an independent candidate in Colorado, Iowa, and Utah and are in line to be on the independent party ticket in Minnesota. They are also eyeing Idaho and Wyoming.
Since announcing his candidacy 11 days ago, more than 60,000 people have signed up on his website to either volunteer or donate money to his campaign. McMullin’s Twitter following has jumped from 125 followers to 45,000 in the same time period. Wilson said he’s spent this past week courting donors in New York City and has gotten some off-the-record commitments from senators hoping to switch to the campaign when they feel they can speak freely.
According to Wilson, McMullin has even gained support from some former Bernie Sanders fans. “It’s weird and kind of great,” Wilson said.
“We’ve said it from the very start, it’s a timing exercise. Evan is ready to go. So now we have to work harder, to scrap every day, to fight for this thing every day,” Wilson said. “We have to go out and run a very aggressive operation in the states… it’s certainly not something you take lightly.”
McMullin is from Utah and went to school at Brigham Young University. He’s hoping his Mormon roots and relationship with Mitt Romney—Wilson says their “teams are in contact”—can help him steal the state and the surrounding Mountain West region from Trump who is underperforming in the typically Republican-leaning zone.
“It’s the state that had the courage in the Republican primaries to stand up to Trump even when he was having a lot of success and it looked like he was an unstoppable candidate,” said McMullin of Utah. “Now it’ clear that the guy is a train wreck. He has no potential to defeat Hillary Clinton.”
Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, candidates for the Green and Libertarian parties respectively, have also sought out roles as alternatives to both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, but McMullin says he doesn’t feel like he’s stepping on any toes.
“Neither of them are truly viable as mainstream candidates. Neither of them are going to defeat Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump,” he said. “I do believe that I’m the type of candidate who could.”
McMullin had the strongest words for Johnson, who has specifically been courting #NeverTrump supporters.
“He doesn’t understand religious liberty and he’s said some wild things about that recently. He also doesn’t understand foreign policy or national security. I don’t trust him and I don’t think Americans trust him to keep the country safe,” he said.
The McMullin campaign believes their entrance into the presidential election offers a concrete alternative Republican candidate to Trump if he drops out before Election Day or if the RNC has a change of heart.
“There’s a real chance that Donald Trump will not be in this race in the next couple weeks,” said Wilson. “If [RNC Chairman] Reince Priebus did the right thing today and pulled the plug on Donald Trump, our lives would be all a little easier because it would let a lot of Republicans come home and conservatives come home.”
For now McMullin is officially running as an independent but he admits that things can change down the road.
“For conservatives I’m saying let’s realize that now, [Trump] can’t do it. He’s the wrong guy to stop Hillary Clinton,” said McMullin. “Let’s shift now to support my candidacy because I think I’m the best candidate to challenge her on her ideas. He’s not somebody who can defeat Hillary Clinton so let’s take stock of that and call a spade a spade and chart a better course for the next few months that gives us a chance to actually win.”