Utah native Evan McMullin entered the presidential race in the immediate aftermath of the Democratic National Convention, when it appeared Donald Trump was headed toward a landslide loss to Hillary Clinton. Now, with polls showing Trump tied or ahead in several crucial battleground states, McMullin’s quest seems not only quixotic, but irrelevant.
Trump’s polling surge has been clarifying, separating anti-Trump voices into two camps. The first camp, exemplified by Cruz, opposed Trump not just as a populist interloper but as a surefire election loser. His recovery presented the chance of stopping Hillary Clinton and filling the empty Supreme Court seat that Republicans have put a wall around until after the election. The second camp, exemplified by McMullin, opposed Trump on moral grounds.
If it’s close, the rationale of #NeverTrump — and all anti-Trump voters — will be challenged. In August, it looked as if Trump’s political style could be discredited by a rout, the way that Barry Goldwater’s defeat discredited opposition to the Civil Rights Act or that George McGovern’s defeat discredited the New Left. McMullin was set to play a role in that, building a “new conservative movement” on the Trump rubble.
In a friendly interview with the Weekly Standard, McMullin strategist Joel Searby said that the tighter polls actually gave McMullin “a real chance to make a significant difference.” But while McMullin gets attention from conservative media, he’s running third among third-party candidates. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian whose social liberalism and unapologetic goofiness sent the #NeverTrump forces scrambling for an alternative, appears on every state ballot and draws real crowds. Just two hours after McMullin’s Austin event ended, Johnson packed hundreds of voters into a rally at a Sixth Street concert venue. Another hundred voters waited in a line around the block, missing the speech but grabbing signs that they pasted around the city’s most famous stretch.