Evan McMullin’s campaign kick-off speech in Salt Lake City, UT.
Evan McMullin's campaign kick-off speech in Salt Lake City, UT.
Evan McMullin’s campaign kick-off speech in Salt Lake City, UT.

(Boise, ID) With polls showing independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin surging in Utah, he and running mate Mindy Finn came to Boise to speak to a crowd of more than a thousand at Boise High School on Saturday afternoon. I was present for the event.

In person, McMullin and Finn are the opposite of Donald Trump: modest, gracious, and down to earth.  They’re people accustomed to working behind the scenes for their country, and to move conservativism forward. Neither has spent their lives staring into the mirror and seeing a future on the national ticket. As Finn said, “I wasn’t planning to run for Vice-President of the United States this year…or ever.”

Rather than giving policy-focused speeches as conservative politicians usually do, Finn and McMullin told the narrative of how two accomplished but unlikely people ended up as a Third Party ticket, with their policy agenda weaved into the narrative, which made the speeches engaging.

The Texas-born Finn is a digital media strategist who has worked for political leaders such as President George W. Bush and Governor Mitt Romney.  She’d hoped to encourage a new generation of conservative women to get involved in politics only to become increasingly alarmed at the state of the campaign and was an outspoken critic of Trump’s misogyny, bigotry, and authoritarianism. She also heard from young people who’d been eager to vote in their first presidential election, only to be utterly disheartened by the choice offered them. Finn had offered help McMullin in any way she could and didn’t expect that would mean becoming his running mate but she nevertheless gladly came on board.

McMullin also spoke of his experience with the 2016 election. From the start, he knew Hillary Clinton was unacceptable. In addition to her liberalism, he cited her decision to store emails on a private server for “self-dealing,” a move which he said endangered the lives of his former CIA colleagues. He called her “the most corrupt politician nominated by either party in modern times.”

However, McMullin became increasingly alarmed at the rise of Trump and disheartened by the refusal of  many members of Congress to stand up against him. According to McMullin they feared getting “mean tweets” if they challenged him. Once Trump clinched, most of Congress got on board in hopes of getting a high government position and also to ensure their own re-elections. “They chose to protect their seats rather than the people,” McMullin said. McMullin added that he ready to leave his job as Policy Director for the House Republicans to work on the campaign of whomever the non-partisan group Better for America had recruited. They had found no one, so McMullin agreed to step up and run three months before the election.

While McMullin has spoke about the need for “a new generation of leadership” from the day he announced for President I’ve never heard it more clearly articulated than it was here. The current leaders in Congress follow the path of least resistance and not just with their backing of Donald Trump. McMullin said there are many members of Congress who are happy to allow the federal agencies to take on legislative duties because it stops people from blaming Congress for the rules enacted. Because of this McMullin believes we need leaders with courage in our public life. He stated that we can’t expect the right leaders to emerge. Concerned citizens have to seek them out and support them.

At the core of McMullin’s campaign is the idea all people are created equal and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and he finds it disheartening that in 2016 this has to be a campaign theme. Beyond that, McMullin advocated for boilerplate conservative ideas of lower taxes and less government regulation with a strong emphasis on the Tenth Amendment and on returning powers to the states and to the people. While McMullin and Finn argue conservatives need to do a better job reaching out to women and minorities, they don’t believe that means sacrificing core conservative values, only changing how we articulate our message in order to reach a broader audience.

McMullin was honest about his chances. Throughout the campaign, his best hope has been to win a few states such as Idaho and Utah and then, if the race is close, force the election into the House of Representatives by denying each candidate 270 electoral votes. As Hillary Clinton builds a greater margin in the Electoral College, this becomes less likely. However, there’s also no reason for voters not to vote their conscience and vote for a candidate who actually stands for the values they believe.

After the speech, McMullin remained onstage as a photo line was formed that stretched from the entrance of the auditorium to the stage. I overheard one mother talk about how her vote for McMullin was about the future. This could be contrasted with the Trump’s campaign which has tried to create an unreasoning sense of fear and panic since the National Convention in July. Voters at this event saw a future beyond this current election. McMullin and Finn offer hope that there are better days ahead.

There are more Americans like McMullin and Finn than there are like Clinton and Trump. They are accomplished, humble, and intelligent people quietly doing the best they can for their country, their family, and their communities. However, we have a system in which the scum tends to rise to the top. McMullin’s right that a new conservative movement is required to turn this around, and McMullin’s campaign is just the start of the start of that long term.

As for McMullin’s short-term political prospects, Idaho offers opportunities and challenges to the McMullin campaign. The authoritarian nature of Trump’s message rubs against Idahoans’ independent nature and our distrust of big, powerful interests. On the other hand, McMullin’s surge in Utah has been led by LDS voters who’ve been the hostile to Trump’s white identity politics and bullying from the beginning. The LDS faith is a large minority in an Idaho rather than a majority, and is far less influential in the Panhandle, so how he performs outside of the LDS vote will be far more critical in Idaho than it has been in Utah.  The Idaho GOP’s party apparatus is all in for Trump with U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) being pressured back onto the Trump train this weekend. Regardless of that McMullin does have a shot in Idaho particularly if Trump’s fortunes nationwide continue to decline.

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