Independent candidate Evan McMullin—the last great hope of #NeverTrump conservatives and Republicans—appeared on Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier last night. Overall, I'd say he made a strong impression. Unlike, say, Donald Trump, he's not a self-aggrandizing jerk and he seems to have a basic grasp of reality that often eludes the Republican nominee.
And yet he shares at least some things with Trump. For instance, like Trump, he has no experience in elective office. A former CIA counte-terrorism agent (who talked about dealing with Middle Eastern terrorists "face to face") and GOP congressional staffer, McMullin also has no problem with same-sex marriage. Or, more specifically, he thinks that issue has been "settled" and it's fruitless for conservatives and Republicans to keep hammering away at it. Also like Trump (at least in his latest incarnation), McMullin is anti-abortion and said that he would work to overthrow Roe v. Wade and otherwise limit and ban the procedure (these topics were discussed live on air yesterday but were edited out of the clip below).
Unlike either Trump or Hillary Clinton, McMullin channels Libertarian Gary Johnson when it comes to trade. McMullin said he generally supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership, though he thinks it still needs to be "tweaked." "We need to trade," he said. "Ninety-five percent of consumers are outside our borders and we need access to them." Unlike Johnson, who believes that immigration is a boon to America and that we should allow more newcomers to enter the country and work and live legally, he emphasizes the need to "control" the U.S.-Mexico border. "I'm for whatever it takes to secure our border with Mexico," he said, adding that he's against "deporting 11 million people" and believes in a path to legal status for current illegals. Asked about Syrian refugees, he notes that "the worst possible way" for a terrorist to reach the United States is to be refugee.
He is a staunch War on Terror hawk who believes in keeping Gitmo open. He thinks we're winning against ISIS but our pace is too slow. He said the "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria can be destroyed and that "we shouldn't take anything off the table," including ground troops, to make that happen. "We need to put ourselves on a war footing," he said, "and remind ourselves that that's what we're involved in."
As Brian Doherty notes, McMullin, a practicing Mormon, has made the ballot in Utah but failed in his bid to do the same in California. He's also on in Minnesota but is starting his campaign after the deadlines in two dozen or more states. His claim that he will compete in all 50 states (mostly by using legal challenges) strays into Trumpian overstatement.
For the sake of having more choices on every presidential ballot, I hope he does make it on everywhere. His issues page is here.
But that shouldn't take away from the fact that his is essentially a vanity project, if not a joke candidacy, for Bill Kristol and other #NeverTrump types. The Republican Party—and McMullin is GOP proxy—has long had a love affair with manifestly unqualified candidates who have never held elective office (see: Trump, Herman Cain, Ben Carson) or even played a commanding role in government (Eisenhower's military and war experience is categorically different than, say, running Godfather's Pizza or hosting Celebrity Apprentice). That speaks to a specifically Republican and conservative contempt for actual experience not just in policymaking but in actual governance (of course, when they can lay into opponents for being "inexperienced," they don't miss a beat).
A final note about McMullin's ability to capture #NeverTrump right-wingers. Given his positive stances toward marriage equality and a path to legalization (or amnesty, as nativists are wont to call it!), it will be fascinating to see exactly who embraces him among The Weekly Standard and National Review crowds. These folks generally find Gary Johnson, a former two-term Republican governor, risible and unserious because, among other things, he is too libertarian on trade, abortion, and foreign policy.
But it turns out that McMullin, like Johnson, brushes past gay rights in a way that will likely alienate some social conservatives. And his willingness to legalize current illegal immigrants should be a non-starter with conservatives who attacked Trump for being soft on immigration (yes, you read that right). All of which is to say that McMullin might not smell as strongly of patchouli and weed as do libertarians Gary Johnson and Ron Paul (yes, conservatives have called Ron Paul's 2012 campaign "pure hippie flower-child nostalgia"), but he should be just as unacceptable to large numbers of conservatives. Perhaps his candidacy, which seems mostly focused on questions of foreign policy given his background, will do less to consolidate #NeverTrump Republicans and more to reveal serious differences between "national greatness" and nativist conservatives.
Watch the Fox News spot below.