I’m treating McMullin with caution. You should, too.

By Jesse Harris
By Jesse Harris

Utah has basically lost its mind for Evan McMullin, the come-from-nowhere presidential candidate that seems to surprisingly have a decent shot at the state’s electoral votes. I know a lot of people who are either enthusiastic supporters or strongly considering a ballot cast for him. Unfortunately, I see a lot of things that make me extremely skeptical of this man, his background, and his intentions and far too much starry-eyed fangirling over what I can only describe as the “perfect Utah candidate”. Here are some reasons why we should be taking a much more critical look at McMullin than we are.

The first and most obvious concern is the short duration of his campaign. They tend to be long and drawn out affairs, but this isn’t all bad. This time, especially in competitive campaigns, allows the press, the general public, and even opposition candidates to dig into someone’s background and qualifications. This is a Good Thing™ as candidates will almost always present the best possible version of themselves. Sometimes it’s just glossing over weaknesses and deficiencies, but there’s always those times when candidates will hide or lie about themselves to win elections. The fiasco with Greg Graves immediately pops to mind, a candidate with such mind-bogglingly bad skeletons in his closet that a write-in candidate (a process that normally has no shot) garnered 28% of the vote. I’m not saying that McMullin necessarily has any Graves-level baggage in his past or present, but with only two months on the campaign trail so far, seemingly little media scrutiny (his coverage has been overwhelmingly positive), and no opposition research, how would we know?

This takes me to McMullin’s employment history. There’s two big things he touts: his time at the CIA and being a senior adviser to a Congressional committee. Unfortunately, there’s little that can be done to vet and verify either stint. Sure, he worked those dates at those places, but doing what? We probably will never know. Black box employment history makes me skeptical. It also doesn’t help that he has worked for Goldman Sachs, a large bank with an absolutely awful public image. It’s just enough for someone who isn’t a skeptic to say “ooh, this guy has experience”.

I’m concerned that this “blank slate” candidate seems to have popped up out of nowhere. Nobody had heard of Evan McMullin prior to this quixotic run for the presidency. There is no history of public service in Utah. He has never run for office. He has held no leadership positions either privately or publicly. And yet, somehow, someone has hand-picked him to be an independent candidate. But who? That’s a mystery. GOP strategist (and ardent #NeverTrump member) Rick Wilson is the only name being named. There are also no financial disclosure forms on file with the FEC for the McMullin campaign. When you don’t know who is backing a candidate and they come out of seemingly nowhere, shouldn’t that raise many, many alarm bells?

And then there’s the blatant pandering to Utah’s largest demographic, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Really, Evan? Back-to-back BYU football and General Conference pictures? It’s practically screaming “I’m Mormon so vote for me”. Judging from the “white horse” treatment that so many of his supporters are lavishing on him, I can’t be too surprised to see him feeding that fire.

All of this would be a little different were he running a competent campaign, but he is not. Starting in August slammed the door on getting on the ballot in at least half of the states. He has only secured ballot access in 11 but consistently misrepresents the total by stating you can vote for him in 34. How does this numerical magic work? By counting write-in states, something that won’t get him even a full percentage point in any of those states. For comparison, Darrell Castle (the Constitution Party candidate because you’ve probably never heard of him or his party) is on more state ballots and will likely get more votes because that’s what real campaigns do. It’s incredibly dishonest to falsely represent your chances this way and I’ve seen more than a few voters fall for it. This doesn’t even get into his complete flubbing by getting the wrong running mate name on the ballot in many states.

Even if he were on the ballot in all states (something that Johnson has done and McMullin has not), there’s still an extremely low probability that his campaign strategy of throwing things to the House will work. All of the election projections are showing a very solid Clinton lead in electoral votes. The fantasy that no candidate gets 270 EVs and the House decides to select McMullin is selling the falsest of false hope. This is a scenario that hasn’t happened since 1824. Barring that, there hasn’t been a point where a deadlock looks probable. Right now, it’s clear that Clinton has this in the bag unless Trump shuts up (and has no more disclosures of what a true lout he is) and Clinton managed to do something spectacularly bad.

The biggest lie, the great con, however, is that this is about the presidency. It’s not. Not even a little. But don’t believe me. Let’s look at Evan’s own words:

The networks and assets built over the next 3 months will be positioned to lead what’s next. Anyone who has been a part of it will be positioned for influencing the future of American politics in ways seldom seen in modern times. This is already happening as tens of thousands of people are joining us — the foundation is already laid for the new movement.

Yep, he said that himself. But his campaign website is riddled with it.

But let me be clear: This is not a protest vote. It’s a movement.

And this:

My running mate Mindy Finn and I represent a new generation of leadership[.]

These are not the words of someone running for President. These are the words of someone building stock for a future race. My gut says this is a long game of building name recognition and political networks to make a solid run for Senator Hatch’s seat (which may or may not be open) in 2018. And how could it fail? He’s got the CIA work experience to hit national security fears, he’s got the BYU/LDS culture signaling down pat, and he took on one of the most unpopular political figured in the state. Every cynical political expert in the state should be saying “yep, this guy will be a Senator”.

All of this combined together makes me wary of throwing too much support behind McMullin. I hope the press will do a better job of checking his background over the next two years and making sure he’s the real deal, that we know his flaws and his virtues clearly and accurately. Right now, this smells too much like a con job. It may be cleaner and more palatable than Trump, but that’s really not much of a yardstick to measure anyone by.

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