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Evan McMullin: a former GOP staffer is now running for president on an anti-Trump platform

Evan McMullin.
Penn in Washington
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

"Never Trump" Republicans have finally — finally! — found a presidential candidate to mount an independent run. Evan McMullin, who was until recently a House Republican staffer, will file papers to enter the race Monday, according to ABC News’s Shushannah Walshe.

"In a year where Americans have lost faith in the candidates of both major parties, it’s time for a generation of new leadership to step up," McMullin told ABC in a statement. "It’s never too late to do the right thing, and America deserves much better than either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton can offer us. I humbly offer myself as a leader who can give millions of disaffected Americans a conservative choice for President."

If you haven’t heard of him, you’re not alone. McMullin is a complete unknown nationally. And though he’s backed by some Republican consultants and at least one outside group organizing on his behalf, he’s already missed filing deadlines for half of the states. Indeed, according to Roll Call's Randy Leonard and Ryan Kelly, he's already missed so many state deadlines that he literally can't win an electoral college majority. In other words, he's not winning.

Yet his candidacy could still conceivably affect the race in one potentially important way — by swinging the outcome in Utah away from Donald Trump.

Who is Evan McMullin?

Until word leaked of McMullin’s planned candidacy Monday morning, even many of the most intense political junkies hadn’t heard of him.

Since 2015, McMullin has had a staff post in the House of Representatives, as the chief policy director of that chamber’s Republican Conference, working first for Speaker John Boehner and then for his successor, Paul Ryan. It’s a job that sounds big, but anonymous Republican aides are telling Politico’s Jake Sherman that he's no longer working there and that, when he was, he wasn’t all that influential.

McMullin’s résumé is also heavy on foreign policy experience. He spent 10 years in the CIA’s national clandestine service as an operations officer. And from 2013 to 2015, he was a senior adviser to Republican staff on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Between the CIA job and the Congress jobs, he got an MBA from Wharton and worked as an investment banking associate at Goldman Sachs.

So he's been busy. What he hasn’t done, however, is ever held elected office.

Why is Evan McMullin running for president?

We don’t know a ton about McMullin’s policy views yet, but the past year of his public Facebook activity indicates that he believes Trump is a real danger to American democracy and views Trump’s "Muslim ban" proposal as both a moral and strategic disaster.

McMullin argues that, based on his experience working abroad, Trump’s rise and style are dangerously reminiscent of "authoritarians" in other states. Check out his commentary about Trump’s Republican National Convention speech last month:

Beyond that, McMullin has denounced Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration as "cowardly" and "ignorant," a threat to "our nation’s fundamental values." He’s consistently posted in support of welcoming Muslim refugees, arguing that this is the moral thing to do, it’s not too much of a practical problem, and that the US must in fact work with many Muslims to wage the war on terror.

Why should we care that this guy is running for president?

The presidential race is nowhere near this close right now. But it could tighten!

Though McMullin is obscure and won’t be on the ballot everywhere unless he files and wins a ton of lawsuits, it’s at least possible that he could do real damage to Trump in at least one state: Utah.

Utah is usually a state that Republican presidential candidates can take for granted. But Trump is already so unpopular with Utah’s heavily Mormon electorate that his lead over Clinton in polls is surprisingly narrow.

McMullin is Mormon and has ties to the state (he attended Brigham Young University). And while not all of his issue positions are yet clear, it seems plausible that for some Republican voters, he could be a more palatable alternative to Trump than Clinton or Gary Johnson (both of whom might be too far to the left on social issues for conservatives’ liking).

Since Trump is already facing punishing Electoral College math, the loss of Utah’s six electoral votes could well be a grievous blow to his candidacy in a close race.

It’s unclear how many Utah Republicans will so strongly dislike Trump that they’d prefer to effectively cast a protest vote to a favorite son candidate who can’t win. It’s also not unthinkable that McMullin could end up drawing away support from Clinton rather than Trump.

Still, at least NeverTrump conservatives will now have a candidate in at least some states, rather than no one anywhere.

This election is about normal vs. abnormal

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