Evan McMullin: Can the Conservative Movement Be Inclusive?

Evan McMullin: Can the Conservative Movement Be Inclusive?

Independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin waits to speak to supporters at an election-night party on November 8, 2016, in Salt Lake City.

SourceGeorge Frey/Getty Images

Why you should care

Because the Mormon ex-spy could change the game.

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By our estimation, the election season’s most intriguing figure was Evan McMullin. After all, the third-party insurgent was a clandestine officer in the CIA, serving in the Middle East and other regions, and much of his day-to-day, from 2003 to 2010, is classified.

Besides that, of course, McMullin seemed to come out of nowhere late in the campaign season — too late, really, to generate enough support to land on most states’ ballots. But McMullin, a Mormon, polled over 20 percent in Utah, and there are plenty of folks who either believe or hope that the 40-year-old could be the new face of conservatism.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both sort of collaborators in this national leadership crisis.

Just a few hours after Hillary Clinton conceded the presidency to Donald Trump, we connected with McMullin to talk about the future of conservatism, his own political future and what he learned campaigning. Our interview has been edited and condensed.

How are you handling the aftermath of Election Day?

Evan McMullin: It was a late night. This morning, the team gathered around the kitchen bar to talk about the future. We slept a little, and then got up to do media — much like the campaign days. We feel good about what we did. We stood for our core principles: We started to build a new conservative movement, one that we think is more necessary in this country than ever with Donald Trump winning.

Do you see this movement expanding the way Bernie Sanders’ “Our Revolution” has?

McMullin: I believe there are some parallels. I’m not an elected official, but I do believe we can still advance this, perhaps even more easily as private citizens. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both sort of collaborators in this national leadership crisis. Either way, it wasn’t good for the country, and I think there will be a movement on the left perhaps led by Bernie Sanders and a movement on the right perhaps led by us to shake things up.

It’s very easy to dismiss the third-party idea. But the truth is that the Republican Party was once the third party — it broke off from the Whig Party, which wanted to reinstitute slavery. And a couple of years later, Lincoln joined that party. And then it grew. Parties do have a life cycle in the country. They are longer than our lives, so people assume that major parties are permanent, but that’s just not the case. The way I see it is that major parties start with a very forward-looking perspective, but over time, maybe even a century and a half, they have these legacy ideas and commitments from the past that bind them to the past and keep them from offering better leadership for the future.

The other thing is that third parties and independents, they tend to be very narrowly focused on a handful of issues to promote, rather than to be electorally competitive. You saw that with the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein this year, where both ran around the country saying that they were on all 50 states, but didn’t compete for any states. Whereas we took a totally different approach. Some of that was born from the fact that we had a three-month presidential campaign, but we instead focused on winning electoral college votes.

Many in Congress seemed to profit from Trump’s coattails. Is that a good thing?

He has run a campaign that is very divisive — not just politically divisive. He has attacked people based on their race and gender and religion. If he is going to reshape the Republican party in that direction, I think that is a departure from what the Republican Party stood for when it was the Party of Lincoln. It’s not just him. The party has struggled with not being as inclusive as it needs to be for some time. His entrance into the scene isn’t anything new; it’s something that was an issue before.

With respect to being more inclusive in the conservative movement, we need to listen more to our minority communities about the challenges that they are facing. Criminal justice reform. Other things in the space of anti-poverty programs. The current ones are designed to help people survive poverty, but not bring them out of it.

That sounds a lot like Paul Ryan’s “Better Way” program …

Look, I was in the House when we developed the Better Way program, and so I support it. I think it’s great. I’m not here to detract from Paul Ryan. But Donald Trump does not. [Trump] is a guy who, when he came to the House, we told him, “You’ve got to talk about entitlement reform because we are headed to a fiscally bad situation. These programs aren’t going to be solvent.” And he didn’t want to do anything about entitlement reform and especially didn’t want to talk about it during the campaign. He’s just not on board with a lot of the policies that Ryan has.

What was a high moment that stuck out to you from your short campaign?

That first event we did in Provo, Utah, where there was clearly a turning point and we were getting serious traction. We were expecting maybe 500 people there, but we ended up having 1,100 to 1,200 people jam-packed into a large ballroom. There was a lot of standing room, people were crammed around the doors and there was great anticipation for what we were standing for.

We’ve said that we’re building what we’re calling the New Conservative Movement, and that is a tangible thing. We’re going to welcome everybody who supported the campaign, continue to build it through welcoming people of different backgrounds and faiths and continue advocating for policies that we think are important and support leaders who we think would be wise, honest and put the interests of the American people first. If for some of us it will be necessary to run for office as part of that, I haven’t made any decisions. But I do very sincerely believe that with Donald Trump as president and leader of the Republican Party, we must have somewhere else for conservatives to go.

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