When Donald John Trump announced his candidacy for the 2016 presidential election at the Trump Tower to an audience of about a thousand supporters on a blustery New York morning on June 16, 2015, no one could’ve anticipated the impact that he would have on this election cycle. No one (aside from Ann Coulter) could’ve even envisioned Mr. Trump winning the GOP presidential nomination. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time – even Mr. Trump himself -, there was a leadership void within the Republican Party that was crying out to be filled.
The billionaire’s no-nonsense style, outsider status, business savvy and keen political instincts drew in the support of blocks of politically frustrated middle class conservatives, tea partiers and Ron Paul’s orphaned paleolibertarians, who were all looking for a champion to lead them and give their struggle a voice. In the following months, these disparate groups of voters organically coalesced into a powerful coalition which has propelled Mr. Trump’s candidacy from the fringes of the race to the summit of the Republican nomination leaderboard with surprising, albeit controversial, ease.
And to think, the teetotaler wasn’t even certain about running as late early 2015. There were real fears that similar to the general elections of 1988, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012, Mr. Trump would not make a bid for the nomination despite giving indications that he might.
His giddying ascension in the polls has been met with incredulous wonder by the media and more established candidates who have long fallen to the wayside. His combative performances in the debates left his opponents tongue-tied, much to the delight of his supporters. His controversial off-the-cuff deliveries and political incorrectness are viewed proudly by his legion of followers. His war cry, Make America Great Again, has galvanized even the elderly to attend his lively rallies.
Mr. Trump’s in-your-face style has drawn a lot of flak from all corners, but only a fool would doubt that there is a method behind his apparent madness. As the former reality TV star has demonstrated repeatedly throughout his career, his audacity is always accompanied by a ferocious intelligence.
There is simply no denying that Mr. Trump has changed the face of American politics forever. And the prospect of a businessman being elected to the White House has rekindled century-old memories of the Roaring Twenties when entrepreneurs such as Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover occupied the Oval Office.
Mr. Trump’s nationalist populist brand of politics captured the imagination of the nation, and powered his victory in the Republican primaries. However, will the charismatic real estate tycoon be able to use an identical approach in his White House run, or will he pivot to the center and reign in his explosive personality? Will he be able to unite the party’s fractured base and win over the agitated social conservatives? Will Miley Cyrus move out of the country if Mr. Trump is elected?
When acting convention chairman Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas pounded his gavel on the first day of the Republican National Convention last July to deny the motion of the anti-Trump coalition to include another name on the presidential roll call, people could be forgiven for thinking that the #NeverTrump movement has finally met its demise.
However, in the weeks following the convention, the movement seemed to have inexplicably gained a second lease of life. Little that anyone knows, Better for America, a privately-funded non-profit, has been working diligently behind the scenes to secure ballot access in various states for an alternative candidate to represent the classical conservatives of the Republican Party. And on August 8, 2016, the candidate finally arrived: David Evan McMullin, or better known as Evan McMullin.
The 40-year-old Utah native is a rather extraordinary choice. For one thing, he is not a politician (though a very well-connected staffer). For another, before wading into the world of politics, Mr. McMullin was a CIA spook, serving in undercover missions in the Middle East for ten years. Prior to that, right after obtaining an MBA from the Wharton School of Business, he was in Brazil serving as a Mormon missionary, and thereafter, in Jordan as a refugee resettlement officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Mr. McMullin, who also holds a B.A. in International Studies from Brigham Young University, spent two years as an executive in the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs before commencing on a political career on Capitol Hill as an adviser to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on national security issues. He was eventually promoted to Chief Policy Director of the House Republican Conference in 2015 – a position he resigned from immediately after announcing his candidacy.
In an open letter to the American public, Mr. McMullin stated that he could “no longer stand on the sidelines” and watch two “fundamentally unfit” candidates contesting for the presidency. As far as Libertarian Party’s candidate Gary Johnson is concerned, Mr. McMullin told the National Review that the former governor of New Mexico “doesn’t understand religious liberty” and “if he were president we’d have to drug-test him every four months.”
Despite the jubilant mood of the anti-Trump conservatives, Mr. McMullin faces a challenging task to make a mark in this election cycle. Getting his name on the ballots of enough states’ will be his biggest hurdle. The groundwork laid by Better for America will probably see him on the ballot of about a dozen states, but the filing deadlines for ballot access have already closed in over half of the states. There are speculations of him taking the litigation route to get his name on the closed ballots, but that option poses just too many hoops to jump through in such a short period of time.
Regardless, in states where his name will be on the ballot, Mr. McMullin will undoubtedly siphon a significant number of conservative and Republican votes away from Mr. Trump – and that will automatically make him the second biggest target for the Republican nominee. On the flip side, he might just end up to be Hillary Clinton’s most favorite person in the world.