Give the #NeverTrump movement credit for persistence. For many months leading up to the Republican National Convention, this collection of Republican and conservative dissidents pursued a two-track strategy to defeat Donald Trump. The first track aimed at denying Trump the nomination through rules changes and grassroots activism. The second track hoped to find a figure who could run a credible independent candidacy that would drain enough votes from Trump — and hopefully Hillary Clinton — to keep either from winning a majority in the Electoral College, forcing the election into the House of Representatives.
The finality of the convention seemed to spell the end of Track One, and the lack of volunteers the end of Track Two. The closest that the anti-Trump movement got on the latter was some interest from National Review analyst and conservative activist David French — interest that lasted a few days in June, followed by his public demurral. In choosing not to pursue the matter, French wrote that Track Two still existed and should be carried out — but by a candidate who "either is extraordinarily wealthy … or is a transformational political talent."
Two months later, Evan McMullin has taken up that challenge. And while McMullin has a laudable record of faithful service to his country and a strong grasp of national-security issues, he fits neither of French's prerequisites for the job. In fact, he doesn't even register on either score to French's own level. The main prerequisite that McMullin seems to meet is his agreeing to run.
McMullin worked for the CIA and Goldman Sachs prior to his most recent job as a senior national-security policy analyst for the House Republican Conference. He has no experience as an officeholder, executive or otherwise. Until the news broke Monday, McMullin had such a low profile that he had fewer than 1,000 followers on Twitter and rarely engaged on social media to larger audiences. This would normally qualify someone to join a campaign as a policy or strategy adviser. They probably wouldn't even get an interview for an opening as campaign manager. Now McMullin wants to be the most powerful person in the world.
Of course, as McMullin points out at his surprisingly robust campaign website, the resumés of the other two major-party nominees leave a lot to be desired, too. "Hillary Clinton is a corrupt career politician," McMullin writes in My Letter to America, who "fails the basic tests of judgment and ethics any candidate for president must meet." He describes Trump as "appeal[ing] to the worst fears of Americans at a time when we need unity," and cites his "obvious personal instability" as a disqualifier.
The problem with these arguments is that they're not new — for either candidate. Bernie Sanders made Clinton's ethics and ties to moneyed interests a major part of his insurgent primary campaign. Republican challengers repeatedly attacked Trump for his temperament and his demagoguery. None of it worked.
McMullin may well be right, but he's not offering anything new. In fact, all McMullin offers voters is an opportunity to not vote for either candidate. However, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson already offers voters that same opportunity in every state, while Green Party Jill Stein will do the same in two dozen or so states. Johnson and his running mate William Weld served as Republican governors in the past, but disaffected conservatives have legitimate policy issues with Johnson. Hence, the #NeverTrump forces have sought yet another option for the last several months.
At least Johnson and Stein will actually make it onto the ballot. Enough state ballot deadlines for independent candidates have passed so that a majority of Electoral College votes are off the table. McMullin's home state of Utah has its deadline next Monday, and seven more states and Washington, D.C., will close down their ballot access before then. That leaves just 17 states, assuming McMullin can organize well enough to qualify for any of those ballots.
Track Two is pretty clearly going to be a bust. So what about Track One? You might think that because the convention concluded more than two weeks ago, this is a moot point. But #NeverTrump conservatives want a do-over. Anti-Trump dissidents argue that kicking Trump off the ballot remains a possibility. It's not; RNC rules do not have a mechanism for reversing a nomination unless the candidate decides to drop out or becomes incapacitated.
The sense of unreality that has pervaded the movement to eject or eclipse Trump after he clinched the nomination in May continues to grow. That also cuts across one of the best features of conservatism — the ability to deal with the world and human nature as it is, rather than assume a possible utopia and structure a worldview based on fantasy. The elevation of McMullin and the demand to reopen the convention amount to a historic level of denial.
Neither major party covered itself in glory with their choice of nominees. That, however, is in the past. For those who want to cast their vote for a candidate with any chance of winning the election, the reality is that the two choices will be Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. For those who wish to use their vote to protest that reality, the ballot is already replete with candidates who have no chance of winning the election. Conservatives should put aside their utopian fantasies and deal with the real-world choices in front of us, rather than waste time, effort, and cash on whatever follows a last gasp.