2016 has been puzzling to say the least; there are few grander understatements. But perhaps the most bizarre oddity in the series of head-scratchers is the candidacy of one Evan McMullin.
Who, you ask, is Evan McMullin and why is he running? Well, as it turns out, few people know the answers to those questions, especially the latter. McMullin is graduate of Wharton, a CIA alumnus who worked for Goldman Sachs, and previously served as a Republican policy director. At the moment, he claims to be the manifestation of the “Never Trump” conservative coalition here to save the day for the movement in an otherwise depressing year.
For various and very real reasons, McMullin does not have a prayer of winning the presidency. His bottom-tier candidacy seems to be muddling about, hoping that it can gain some traction with the conservative intellectual elite. Other than that, it does not appear that McMullin has any real goals.
Except maybe he does.
Maybe his goals are not to achieve any benchmarks for himself or an organization, but rather to prevent a rival movement from achieving theirs. And maybe that rival is the Libertarian Party.
Let us look at the facts: first regarding the outlook of the McMullin campaign and then at how it compares to the recent moves of LP nominee Gary Johnson.
The top and most obvious concern for any third party candidate is, of course, getting on the ballot. The filing deadlines for thirty-two states have already come and gone. Among those are the important electoral battlegrounds of Texas (38), Pennsylvania (20), and North Carolina (15). The deadlines for many others – including kingmaker Florida – are quickly approaching.
Already, McMullin would be virtually eliminated from the contest on electoral math alone. But while still exercising the benefit of the doubt, there could yet be a perceivable reason he would want to run. Chiefly, to spread the “conservative” message the current field of candidates genuinely lacks.
That leads to McMullin’s second problem: name recognition. Gary Johnson and Bill Weld have dealt with the same issue but they have received significantly increased exposure over the past few months. Amongst the unprecedented amount of LP media coverage are a Fox Business LP debate, a live stream of the LP convention on C-SPAN, two CNN town halls, and an upcoming Fox Business town hall with John Stossel.
On the other side of the coin, McMullin has had – and does not appear likely to gain – any of these unique advantages. With Election Day only closer, he already trails a formidable LP ticket that had the benefit of a months-long head-start. This is a poor problem to have in August, when the cutoff for presidential debate polling arrives in September. McMullin does not have a prayer of making the stage if he cannot even make it into the polls.
So with no path to victory and no name recognition to meaningfully spread a message, this campaign appears more suspect. The case becomes more damning when specifically compared to Johnson’s recent surge in success.
Reports from Rare.com have indicated that Johnson looks like he could feasibly make the debate stage. Kevin Boyd, a Rare contributor, reported that “the commission [on Presidential Debates] has told the universities hosting the debates to be prepared for three people.” Such an inclusion would lead to an instant boost for the Libertarian candidate who is already polling quite well in states like Utah.
Now Utah is where the Johnson-McMullin situation seems to mimic an Underwoodian plot from House of Cards. Currently, UtahPolicy.com shows Johnson surging in support in the state. Some polls have even shown him placing second in a field with Clinton and Trump. However, in a CNN interview on Tuesday, McMullin said that he has an opening in the key state of Utah where voters are “highly dissatisfied” with the candidates. Does McMullin think that he can displace the socially liberal Johnson in the highly conservative, Mormon populated Utah? Plausible. Does McMullin want to throw a massive monkey-wrench in the Libertarian Party’s plan by foiling a promising Utah effort? Also plausible.
But the rabbit-hole goes deeper. Many on the right, including those who have said they will ultimately vote for the former New Mexico governor, have expressed concern over the religious liberty or so-called “Nazi cake” issue. Right on cue, in one of his first big interviews McMullin jumped on Johnson, telling National Review that the LP candidate “doesn’t understand religious liberty.”
So why is Mr. McMullin running? Maybe he genuinely believes he has a shot at spreading the good word of conservatism this cycle. But it is also a distinct possibility that he – or the people behind the curtain – are out to sabotage the LP from performing well and becoming a threat in the future.
2016 is a massive opportunity for the often obsolete Libertarian Party. With 15 percent in the polls, their candidate can make the debate state. With some hard campaigning, Johnson could potentially win the party electoral votes in Utah. And, most importantly, with 5 percent of the vote nationwide, the LP could qualify for major party status and earn matching federal funds to compete with the Republicans and Democrats.
Breaking up the two party system sounds like a great idea to most people, except to those who have a vested interest. This is American politics – we all know how the game is played; and no one has more to loose from a potential Libertarian Party rise than the post-Trump Republican Party.
* Jordan LaPorta is a contributor at The Libertarian Republic