America’s pundit class doesn’t quite know what to make of Evan McMullin. The former CIA operative has thrown himself into the presidential race with support from well-known political operatives and an organization dedicated to finding ballot access in as many states as possible. The response of the American pundit class has been one of utter incredulity.
Of course, there is the dark conspiracy theory that takes the dimmest view of Mr. McMullin’s campaign for the White House. Hot Air’s Allahpundit has speculated that McMullin is an intentional plot to throw the election to Hillary Clinton. Many pundits echo this point, suggesting that McMullin is either a witting or unwitting dupe of Hillary in trying to turn Utah blue.
First of all, the biggest sign of trouble for Donald Trump in Utah is not the possibility that Evan McMullin could throw the state to Hillary Clinton, it’s that Utah is competitive at all. Secondly, this is one of those really clever conspiracy theories that pundits embrace to explain behavior they can’t understand because the explanation makes no sense.
The theory is that McMullin entered this race to deny Donald Trump Utah’s six electoral votes because even if Trump wins Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania along with all the other Romney states, but loses Utah to Clinton, he’ll lose the White House.
The problem is that Trump’s campaign was already imploding. When McMullin announced Trump was down ten points nationally and down nine in Pennsylvania according to the Real Clear Politics average. Election odds-makers give Hillary Clinton an 80% chance of winning the election. Trump is in a death spiral. Trump supporters are already jockeying to scapegoat #NeverTrump so they don’t get blamed for his loss.
In such a world, there is no logic whatsoever to spend valuable time, and thousands of dollars trying to throw Utah to Hillary Clinton. There is even less logic for McMullin to launch a run which has ended a promising career as a senior hill staffer. Not to mention the fact that if McMullin is seen as costing Trump Utah, and Utah costs Trump the election, McMullin would become a pariah to most Republicans.
Let me suggest a more plausible explanation. McMullin thinks he can win Utah. In the latest poll of Utah, Trump holds a 37-25% lead over Hillary Clinton with 16% for Libertarian Gary Johnson and 14% for some other candidate, 7% undecided, and 1% for Jill Stein. Johnson’s total is impressive, but it is a soft number. At this point, to many voters on the right, Johnson’s name might as well be, “None of the Above.” The Libertarian Party, with its current focus on pot, prostitution, and pornography, isn’t a natural fit for Utah. In addition, the Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate Bill Weld keeps forgetting he’s no longer the anti-gun liberal Republican Governor of Massachusetts, but is supposed to be a Libertarian. This doesn’t help the Libertarian ticket in the West. Due to this, I think much of the support that has gone to Johnson could switch to McMullin.
If McMullin is able to run a credible campaign, he could easily push above 30% of the vote to challenge Trump for the state, and it’s able to garner support from Mitt Romney and Senator Mike Lee, he would take Utah in a landslide. The far simpler explanation is the far better one than the conspiracy theory pushed by the media.
The “intentionally helping Hillary speculation” paints a very good picture of how we got a candidate like Donald Trump. If you’re a commentator, you can feel free to impugn the motives of a patriotic American with no evidence at all if it’s convenient to the narrative you want to spin. However, don’t complain when your party nominates a Presidential candidate who raises equally weak sourced intimations that his chief opponent’s father helped kill JFK because it suits his narrative.
Josh Gelenter of National Review acknowledged that McMullin does have a chance if he wins Utah. If neither Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump get 270 electoral votes, the election would go to the House of Representatives where the House would choose between McMullin, Clinton, or Trump. However, Gelenter warns, “Note, however: If McMullin were to run anywhere but Utah, he will tip the race to Hillary, Ross Perot–style.”
This is simply not true. First, as I’ve written before, Ross Perot was not responsible for the defeat of George H.W. Bush. For another, there are many Western States with large Latter Day Saints (LDS) populations including Idaho, with the southeastern part of the State being as solidly anti-Trump in the primaries as Utah was. If McMullin could add Idaho to Utah, that would also increase his chances of getting the election to the House and it would increase the number of scenarios under which he could win. I think McMullin’s campaign may have potential beyond that.
The biggest impediment to that is Trump who is not swinging blue states towards himself. If Utah and Idaho voted for McMullin with today’s electoral map, it would have no impact on an election where Secretary Clinton is set to rack up more than 320 electoral votes. McMullin may have opportunities to challenge Hillary Clinton in traditional purple states like Colorado, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, which Mr. Trump’s campaign has managed to make solid blue.
In addition, if McMullin took Mr. Gelenter’s advice, it would play into the most basic criticism of McMullin’s campaign, which is to simply point to the clock and note how many states’ independent candidate ballot deadlines he’s already missed. To do this, you have to ignore the campaign’s repeated statements that they will file lawsuits in some cases and in others, they will seek the nomination of minor parties. Over the weekend, they secured the support of the Minnesota Independence Party. And there are quite a few states with minor parties that don’t typically run Presidential candidates but could give their line to Mr. McMullin even where the deadline for an independent candidate has already passed.
Pundits don’t have any context to evaluate what McMullin is doing. The idea of a presidential candidate launching three months before the election is unprecedented particularly with the large amount of organizational support McMullin appears to have. However, the awful choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump that has left so many Americans disenchanted and not really wanting either major party candidate is also unprecedented. In the volatility of the current election McMullin’s campaign can’t be as easily discounted as some of the media would like to.