Longshot presidential candidate Evan McMullin’s path to the White House is tortured at best, but the Auburn High School graduate and former CIA agent sees himself as the only reasonable alternative for conservatives who can’t stomach Trump or Clinton.
He graduated from Auburn High School and worked as a top Washington, D.C., aide to Spokane congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
Now Evan McMullin is hoping to be the wild card in the Nov. 8 election.
McMullin, 40, is running an extreme longshot campaign for president, offering himself as a conservative alternative for Republicans sickened by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
How long are his odds?
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You won’t even find him on the ballot in Washington. McMullin and vice-presidential running mate Mindy Finn didn’t enter the race until mid-August, and made the ballot in only 11 states. They’re running as write-ins in Washington and elsewhere.
Still, McMullin, who is Mormon, has shown strength in Utah, where he is on the ballot and where many Republicans are hostile toward Trump. Polls have shown him in second place in that state, and at times within striking distance of first.
McMullin’s surreal path to the White House would go like this: win Utah’s six Electoral College votes, causing a stalemate in which no candidate reaches the 270 electoral votes needed to win. That would throw the contest to the U.S. House of Representatives, where McMullin would be eligible along with Clinton and Trump.
McMullin acknowledges becoming president with such a minuscule share of the national popular vote would be unprecedented, and not exactly democratic.
“Do I think what we’re doing is ideal and the way it should work ideally? Absolutely not,” he said in an interview last week.
But McMullin said the writers of the Constitution created such a pathway for an election year like 2016 — in which both of the major- party candidates are unpopular with a majority of Americans.
“One is terribly corrupt and dishonest and the other is the same, but also poses a true threat to the Republic, given his authoritarian tendencies,” he said.
McMullin’s candidacy has grabbed national media attention and endorsements from two prominent Washington Republicans, former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton and former Secretary of State Sam Reed.
It’s also drawn scorn from Trump, who has called McMullin a puppet for disgruntled GOP pundits who have opposed and underestimated him. “The guy takes votes away from me. You know, we’re going to win Utah. But he takes votes away from me, this man who I never heard of,” Trump said in a recent Fox News interview.
McMullin argues that conservatives should go their own way if the GOP is going to become a Trump-led party backed by the so-called “alt-right” movement of racists and anti-Semites.
One prominent white nationalist has attacked McMullin in Utah with robocalls that accuse him of being a secret homosexual in favor of open borders.
McMullin, who said he is not gay, accuses Trump of encouraging such attacks with his anti-immigrant rhetoric, attacks on a federal judge’s Mexican heritage, and support for an unconstitutional national stop-and-frisk policy for police.
“If it’s necessary to start a new party because the Republican Party continues to go down the path of populism and white nationalism, we’ll start something new,” he said.
The spotlight on McMullin surprised one of his old Auburn classmates, Nigel Barron, who recalls McMullin as a smart guy whose Mormon faith was important to him, and who took an early interest in politics.
Barron recalled a political rally at Westlake Center for a campaign that offered their politics class tickets. The school wouldn’t let them go, because it was a partisan rally.
In protest, Barron and McMullin printed up an alternative student newspaper — there was only one edition printed — calling it the Yort Report. Auburn High School’s mascot is the Trojans and its newspaper is the Troy InVoice. Yort is Troy spelled backward.
“We were pissed about not being able to go to that rally,” Barron said. “His thing was, I don’t care if they’re a Democrat or a Republican, it’s educational and we should be able to go.”
McMullin’s parents still live in the Seattle area. His mother is now married to another woman, a relationship that was attacked in the Utah robocalls paid for by avowed white supremacist William Johnson.
After Auburn, McMullin graduated from Brigham Young University and earned a master’s of business administration from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, according to his campaign biography.
He later joined the Central Intelligence Agency, serving overseas in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. After leaving the CIA, McMullin worked for Goldman Sachs in the San Francisco area.
In 2013, McMullin went to work as a senior adviser for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. He then moved on to become policy director of the House Republican Conference, the policy group chaired by McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane.
Earlier this year, as Trump stomped all his GOP rivals one by one, much to the dismay of McMullin, conservatives plotted to somehow deny Trump the nomination. But an effort by delegates at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland fell well short.
A group of longtime Republican operatives, including pundit Bill Kristol, worked to draft an alternative candidate. McMullin stepped into the role himself after others bowed out.
McMullin said he kept his plans to run secret from McMorris Rodgers, who had endorsed Trump. The day news leaked out of his candidacy, McMullin called McMorris Rodgers to give her a heads-up but got her voicemail. He left a message. The two have not spoken since.
“I have a lot of respect for her. She is a dedicated servant of the people in her district. Obviously, we disagree over her support for Donald Trump,” he said.
McMorris Rodgers declined requests for an interview or statement about McMullin. State Republican Party Chairwoman Susan Hutchison also declined to comment on his candidacy.
Despite long odds, McMullin said he’s part of “building a new conservative movement” beyond the Nov. 8 election.
He said his platform looks much like the “Better Way” agenda outlined by House Speaker Paul Ryan, including cutting and simplifying taxes, and repealing the Affordable Care Act.
McMullin blames Trump’s ascension on the failure of GOP leaders, as well as voters fed up with the Obama administration and Congress.
“He gave a voice to people who are justifiably frustrated nobody is looking out for them,” McMullin said. “But he also combined people’s justified frustrations with their deepest fears and their darkest prejudices. That is exactly what authoritarians do.
“As he gained steam, people like a winner. People got on board and abandoned the principles. It’s a failure of leadership.”