Donald Trump is flailing. A solid month of his grotesque errors has given Hillary Clinton a commanding 7-point lead in the national poll average — and a recent poll has her well ahead in deep-red (but increasingly nonwhite) Georgia.
This has prompted the latest in a series of increasingly hilarious conservative attempts to interfere with Trump: Have a complete nobody run for president!
First they were going to run some second-tier National Review staffer. When that guy abandoned the charade, they rooted around for months looking for another warm body, and now they've got one. An ex-CIA employee, former Republican staffer, and Yul Brynner look-alike called Evan McMullin is supposedly going to run for president as an independent. If he actually goes through with it, it might cut into Trump's vote very slightly here and there — but it will make McMullin and a few consultants a huge pile of cash.
First, we should be clear about one thing. Just like Joe McCarthy, Trump is garnering significant conservative backlash now that he is attacking Republicans and destroying their electoral prospects. Trump's bigotry, xenophobia, and Yosemite Sam-esque antics didn't make him a party pariah so long as he was polling well and focusing his fire on Democrats. Now that he attacked Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, and might just lose the House for the GOP, the rats are deserting the ship.
Second, it is literally impossible for McMullin to win. The American electoral system is a nightmare of Byzantine complexity, and getting on the ballot in every state means a grueling effort of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures that McMullin, in all likelihood, could not get done. But not only that — as Roll Call's Randy Leonard and Ryan Kelly demonstrate, the filing deadline for states constituting a majority of the Electoral College has already passed. As of August 2, it is legally out of the question for a new independent candidate to win the presidency.
Of course, that barely matters, since the political obstacles for McMullin to make a credible run are only just shy of an actual legal prohibition. In a country of 320 million people, with election day only a few months off, he's a guy with no national profile, barely known even among political reporters. He's never held elected office. Oh, and he worked at the CIA doing counterterrorism during the whole illegal torture thing.
If he can manage to get on the ballot, he might potentially split off a handful of votes that would otherwise be for Trump — though it seems like the neoconservative warmonger crowd that would be his only natural constituency are already pretty happy with Clinton. Frankly, donating $20 to Clinton's campaign would do about as much to stop Trump as this goofy run.
What it will do, however, is make a ton of money for political consultants and ad specialists. McMullin apparently has the backing of GOP bigshot Rick Wilson and Better for America, a spooky PAC looking to put up an anti-Trump presidential candidate. This run is tailor-made for a handful of GOP insiders to con a king's ransom out of elderly rich conservatives to make pointless TV ads and email blasts. All the better that it's foreordained to fail, because that way it can be framed as a noble rearguard action and the donors won't be mad when Clinton wins.
But that brings me back to the hamfisted incompetence that has characterized the anti-Trump forces from the very start, from Jeb Bush's pathetic showing to the persistent refusal to see that Ted Cruz was the only primary opponent who could beat Trump. There are many facets of this failure, but a big one was Republican candidates and operatives consistently prioritizing their own personal gains above preventing a Trump victory. Admitting that Bush was a terrible candidate with zero chance of victory would have jeopardized people's share of the $130 million he spent getting casually obliterated by Trump.
In a way, it's poetic justice to see the party of individualism and free-market worship stuck with Trump due to excessive self-seeking. So it's not surprising that if they cannot beat him, they'll spend another $130 million pretending like they can.