Remember Evan McMullin, the obscure congressional staffer and former CIA agent who in early August announced an independent presidential candidacy as the champion of bitter-end #NeverTrump conservatives? Don’t feel bad if you answer “no.” McMullin hasn’t exactly captured the attention of the politically obsessive chattering classes, much less actual voters.
But while the rest of us were obsessing about Trump’s fondness for sexual assault and the WikiLeaks bombardment of Hillary Clinton, one-third of McMullin’s exotic strategy for becoming president is actually becoming feasible.
A new poll of Utah from Y2 Analytics shows McMullin in a statistical tie with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the Beehive State. The two major-party candidates are at 26 percent, McMullin’s at 22 percent, and Gary Johnson is at 14 percent.
That’s not entirely shocking. A Salt Lake Tribune poll last month showed McMullin creeping up on the rest of the field with 12 percent. He’s a native of Provo, Utah; a graduate of that city’s Brigham Young University; and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Utah has long been ground zero of #NeverTrump Republican sentiment. The mogul was trounced there in the state’s caucuses. As Trump has acknowledged, Mormons really, really don’t like him. Utah’s Republican governor, two of its four House members, and U.S. senator Mike Lee have disclaimed support for him. And lest we forget, Utah’s favorite Republican, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, never joined the Trump train, either.
Utah’s intensely conservative cultural environment is not the most natural habitat for the dope-smoking pro-choice Libertarian Gary Johnson. Deep-red Utah’s not going to vote for Hillary Clinton, either, if there is any alternative. And so that leaves McMullin.
Let’s say this fifth presidential option actually does win Utah’s six electoral votes. According to his full-court-hook-shot-at-the-buzzer scenario for victory, Trump and Clinton would contrive to divide the other 532 electoral votes so evenly that neither would win 270. And then, with the U.S. House choosing among the three candidates receiving electoral votes, these solons would eventually turn to their former employee Mr. McMullin as some sort of right-wing national unity figure.
Trouble is, of course, the same dynamics that have made McMullin competitive in Utah are making the national race lean heavily toward Hillary Clinton. If she wins handily in the Electoral College, McMullin becomes a footnote. And for that matter, it’s not entirely clear the House would still be controlled by Republicans. So let’s hope McMullin’s got a fallback plan for future employment.