McMullin Shows Trump Is Too Wild for the West
Salt Lake City, Utah--Former spy Evan McMullin is on the brink of doing what no presidential candidate has done for more than half a century – deprive the Republican nominee of winning the state of Utah.
He is very unlikely to become president but his spirited stand as an independent representing traditional conservative values is a powerful rebuke to Donald Trump. It could also be the first step in a realignment on the right after a Republican takeover by the populist billionaire.
McMullin spoke to The Sunday Times in a conference room in his modest campaign in Salt Lake City, Utah. On the wall opposite him was a poster made by an enthusiastic volunteer that urged “007 for President” and depicted him as James Bond, wearing black tie and holding a pistol.
But McMullin is far from flashy. He admits he is uncomfortable suddenly being in the limelight. “I enjoyed being a grey man,” he said ruefully, looking back at his 11 years in the CIA.
He is the anti-Trump, an ascetic bachelor with the steely-eyed, softly-spoken aura of a man who has done things in his life of which he can never speak - never mind brag about.
Since 1964, Utah has been a Republican bastion. But that changed when Trump, a profane, skirt-chasing, anti-immigration demagogue, turned the 2016 election into an unprecedented spectacle.
Voters in Utah, 60% of whom are Mormon, socially conservative and abide by a strict code of personal morality, have rebelled.
Trump’s support has plummeted nationally since a video tape of his bragging about sexual assault emerged two weeks ago, followed by a string of accusations by women who said he groped or forcibly kissed them. But nowhere more than in Utah.
Mormons tend to be conservative but charitable, welcoming of immigrants and supportive of minorities. Most senior Mormon politicians have rejected Trump, unlike evangelical leaders who have largely stuck by him.
Now, Trump is on the verge of being humiliated in the state by the 40-year-old former CIA operative who brands him a "neo-fascist" hell bent on turning the Republican Party into a haven for "white nationalists".
Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee and a Mormon, has denounced Trump and the McMullin campaign is pushing for his endorsement – a seal of approval that could make all the difference.
With Trump's fortunes continuing to slide after another flawed debate performance against Hillary Clinton, a Utah poll conducted by Emerson College last week showed McMullin surging to 31%, Trump on 27% and Clinton on 24%.
Trump has just over two weeks to claw back a national poll deficit of more than six points. But in the debate he stirred up female voters by referring to Clinton as a “nasty women”, Hispanics by using the term “bad hombres” and moderates by refusing to agree to accept the election result.
If McMullin wins his home state on November 8th, he will become the first independent candidate since segregationist George Wallace in 1968 to win a state.
He served with the CIA in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as “all the war zones post-9/11 until 2010 and most of the other hostile environments”. A clandestine operative, his job was to “penetrate insurgent and terrorist groups as well as foreign governments”, recruiting agents to pass information “to take these people off the battlefield - either capture or kill them”.
Unlike the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who gormlessly asked “What is Aleppo?” when questioned about Syria’s second city, McMullin has actually been there.
McMullin’s CIA experience, he believes, helped him see through Trump from the outset. “Donald Trump is an authoritarian just like Vladimir Putin, just like Bashar Al-Assad, just like the Communist regime in China,” he said.
“I have worked against and around authoritarians overseas and I know them when I see them. Donald Trump is one of them. He would bring the same kind of economic stagnation, internal turmoil and discord to our country that other dictators bring to their own.”
In fact, he views Trump as a Russian puppet. “I'm sure the Kremlin considers Donald Trump by far its most successful intelligence operation ever.
“It’s very clear that Vladimir Putin and his regime have some control over Donald Trump. Trump’s support for Putin is the only thing he has been consistent on.”
McMullin is barely less scathing of Clinton. “She’s the most corrupt politician that we’ve seen pursue the presidency, in modern times at least,” he said.
“She’s somebody who’s willing to compromise our national security secrets and the lives of my former colleagues in order to protect herself and in order to avoid the accountability to the American people.”
And he has nothing but opprobrium for Republican leaders who have enabled Trump and through “a tragic display of poetic irony”, he believes, have now sacrificed their principles only to ensure that Hillary Clinton will become president.
“They wouldn’t listen so now they’re going to get Hillary Clinton – the very thing they claim to be most opposed to.”
Many senior Republicans have resigned themselves to defeat and are now beginning to focus on how to rebuild their party – which McMullin believes is destined to become a white nationalist rump, making way for a new, more inclusive conservative party to emerge.
Not only is Trump behind in swing states like Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Colorado, he is on the defence in Republican “red states" like Arizona, Georgia and Utah. Clinton, sensing the possibility of an upset in Utah, is pouring in resources and has upped her paid staff there from one to six.
In Democratic “blue states” that Trump vowed to win, like Michigan and Pennsylvania, Trump is slipping further behind.
McMullin, who is Mormon and was born in Utah, admits that the possibility of his becoming president is extremely remote.
It rests on the chance of neither Trump nor Clinton winning the 270 electoral college votes needed for outright victory, thereby sending the election to the House of Representatives. The last time that happened was in 1825.
At that point, the House, which is in Republican hands, could choose any of the top three candidates who had won a state. “It depends on the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump being very, very close and it is not close now.”
The McMullin campaign is built on a wing and a prayer. He has 20 full-time staff, compared to Clinton and Trump’s hundreds, and 25,000 small donors but no big money men like the main parties.
His name is on the ballot in just 11 states. On those, his vice-presidential running mate is listed as “Nathan Johnson”, a made-up placeholder before Mindy Finn, a former Republicans who worked in the Bush administration and on the Romney campaign, was selected.
As well as Utah, McMullin believes he has a shot at winning neighbouring Idaho, which also has a substantial Mormon population, and perhaps Wyoming.
But his longer-term aim is to help reform the Republican party, or be one of the founders of an alternative.
“I have the principles of a true conservative – somebody who will actively fight back and resist the white supremacist movement and who will stand up for women, African-Americans, Muslims and people with disabilities,” he said.
McMullin has been drawing large crowds in Utah and is now recognised wherever he goes. During an unannounced visit to the Hires Big H Drive-in diner is Salt Lake City, a succession of people came up to thank him for running.
Jenny Grandia, 40, who was in the diner with her husband and three daughters, said that Donald Trump comments about women made him unacceptable.
“I don’t want my daughters treated in the way he talks about women, she said Grandia. “They’re objects to him.” Her husband Jeff, 41, a healthcare executive, added: “I’ve been very much a straight-line Republican most of my life. I will not vote for Trump.”
Ross Stokes, 39, a demolition worker, said: “Trump had a lot of liberal, big government and Democratic viewpoints before becoming Republican all of a sudden.
“He lies on a dime, says something different morning, noon and night and I’m not a fan of the ego and narcissism.
“Evan won’t be president but he’s got a chance of winning here. I hope Utah sends a message that we're not standing for either one of Trump or Clinton.”