The Fall and Fall of Evan McMullin

Thought the #NeverTrump fiasco was kaput now that the election is over? Think again.

Though many Never Trumpers have abandoned the field and are cautiously optimistic in light of Donald Trump’s post-election actions, others cling tenaciously to their cause. Evan McMullin, the presidential candidate seemingly fabricated by Bill Kristol in a laboratory, remains steadfast in  his quixotic quest to become the Torquemada of True Conservatism.

In case you have forgotten who McMullin is (though you and most other Americans might find it impossible to forget someone you never really knew), he worked for the CIA for 10 years overseas, followed by a stint at Goldman Sachs, and then spent a few years as a House staffer until earlier this summer. He was flattered into running for president by the same brain trust that hatched a failed scheme to recruit David French, a relatively obscure writer and lawyer at National Review, for the purpose of thwarting Trump and electing Hillary Clinton. French, however, was self-respecting enough to understand when he was being taken for a fool; McMullin, not so much.

To no one’s surprise, McMullin’s candidacy was largely a sideshow, aimed at providing cover for movement conservatism in the event of the “inevitable” loss these gurus were convinced was coming for Trump.. His campaign was straight out of a Christopher Buckley novel; though he evidently wasn’t in the on the joke. Self-awareness is not one of McMullin’s strong suits, to say the least.

McMullin ran on the platform that if only Americans would invoke the principles of the Declaration of Independence enough, and apply them to the whole world with verve, we could solve our national problems. Never mind the hard work of connecting principles to policies that serve the common good. Statesmanship is for chumps. Simple sophistry will suffice to bind our nation’s wounds. The rednecks in Appalachia just need to quit their incessant yapping about their trials and travails and read their trusty pocket Constitutions everyday. That’ll do the trick.

At this point, McMullin has resigned himself to being a Twitter warrior, calling out Trump for everything under the sun.

McMullin has castigated Trump’s pick of former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, calling Bannon a “white supremacist darling” and an “anti-Semite.” Bannon, along with Trump appointees Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions, are “antagonistic to religious and other minorities.” The writers at left-wing fever swamps like Salon and the Daily Kos couldn’t have said it better! Though these charges are absolutely baseless, that hasn’t dissuaded McMullin from spreading every bit of lurid anti-Trump propaganda he can dream up. Evidently, this is what “principled conservatism” has come to be. Fair play and honest assessment of character be damned.

As for Trump, McMullin has called him an “autocrat” who wants to erode our democratic institutions so that he can “wield power” and establish an “international kleptocracy.” Those who make such charges seem to be unaware of the despotism perpetuated by the unaccountable bureaucrats who run the administrative state—the same bureaucrats Trump has promised to rein in. As William McGurn notes in the Wall Street Journal,

What’s striking here is that the same folks who see in Mr. Trump a Mussolini in waiting are blind to the soft despotism that has already taken root in our government. This is the unelected and increasingly assertive class that populates our federal bureaucracies and substitutes rule by regulation for the rule of law. The result? Over the Obama years, the Competitive Enterprise Institute reckons, Washington has averaged 35 regulations for every law.

McMullin, of course, has nothing at all to say about this political reality. Instead, he evidently thinks that throwing around some meaningless evocations of “liberty” and “equality” is sufficient.

McMullin has also succumbed to Putin fever, seeing foreign agents of the Kremlin lurking in every corner. Most conservatives—including many NeverTrumpers—have understood the CIA-originated “reports” of Russian interference in the election allegedly on Trump’s behalf to be a rehash of an old charge. Even if evidence supported Russian ties to the hack of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, among others, no evidence suggests the hack (as opposed to the true information the hack exposed) influenced the election. Yet McMullin has gone on a tirade straight out of the Cold War, buying the report and the spin about it without exhibiting the least bit of curiosity about the timing or the findings.

McMullin accused Trump of “purposefully dismantling barriers that protect our nation from dangerous Russian subversion.” In a particularly egregious display of malice, McMullin claimed that “Donald Trump is not a loyal American.” I understand that some Americans are appalled at Trump’s election. But calling Trump a traitor to his country is beyond the pale. If he had any real regard for the truth, McMullin would be ashamed of himself.

In any event, such reports shouldn’t be taken at face value. As an ex-CIA officer, McMullin—of all people—should know this. Why would this report re-surface now, ahead of the Electoral College meeting on Monday, and when it’s been known for some time that such hacking was taking place? (And as John Hinderaker of PowerLine notes, the White House and other executive office computer systems were hacked a couple years ago with little national outcry to speak of.)

Does the CIA, an agency that’s gotten so many things wrong over the years, have direct evidence that proves Russia hacked the emails and that they did so in order to help Trump win? And even if there were proof of Russia’s involvement and intent, would this “proof” be dispositive evidence that Russia influenced American voters as opposed to, say, Hillary Clinton’s character and actions? The Washington Post’s own account begrudgingly admits that they don’t have direct evidence to back up these claims:

The CIA presentation to senators about Russia’s intentions fell short of a formal U.S. assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies. A senior U.S. official said there were minor disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered. For example, intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin “directing” the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, a second senior U.S. official said. Those actors, according to the official, were “one step” removed from the Russian government, rather than government employees.

(The idea that a lack of direct evidence is only a “minor” detail is laughable.)

And why did the FBI conclude months ago that the RNC—which another leak reported by the New York Times said was hacked as well—in fact was never hacked? If the emails supposedly handed Trump the election, why did Mike Rogers, the head of the NSA, and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) conclude only a few short weeks ago that the hacking did not influence the outcome of the election?

Surely, much more needs to be known to assess what’s really happened. That Russia and other countries try to influence United States policy and elections through espionage (and that the U.S. does the same to other countries) should not shock anyone. Nations have interests and they do what they can to promote them. But the claim that Russia “hacked our elections” (whatever that means) and that such “hacks” were the determining factor in Trump’s victory just doesn’t hold any water.

Instead, this claim should be viewed as part of a much larger campaign to delegitimize Trump’s presidency before it even begins. The fact that  Clinton’s 2016 campaign was the worst in modern American history apparently eludes liberals. They remain undeterred, feverishly spinning outlandish theories by which Hillary can be installed as president. Not demonstrating any interest in why their party took yet another shellacking from voters, they are now pointing the finger at anyone and anything (e.g., the Russians, racism, fake news, sexism, dumb voters, etc.) but themselves for their complete and utter incompetence. And yet according to Evan McMullin, Trump is the one sabotaging democratic norms.

Predictably, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson’s nomination to be the next secretary of state has drawn McMullin’s ire. Tillerson has a working relationship with Vladmir Putin, along with many other heads of state, because of his international business dealings in the oil and gas industry. He received an important-sounding award, the Russian Order of Friendship, in 2013 from Putin. (Other “agents of Russia” who have won the award include former Cleveland Cavaliers basketball coach David Blatt and, posthumously, the American pianist Van Cliburn.) McMullin has argued that Tillerson is a useful patsy for Trump, because he won’t stop Trump’s “alignment with Putin.” (“Alignment” seems to be his term for when someone doesn’t want to start World War III with Russia at the slightest provocation.) But James Baker, Robert Gates, Condoleezza Rice, and Stephen Hadley applauded the appointment, with Gates calling Tillerson “a person of great integrity whose only goal in office would be to protect and advance the interests of the United States.” So are Baker, Gates, Rice, and Hadley also among Putin’s flunkies?

McMullin’s flailing about is entertaining, but it is also a stark reminder of the failures of the conservative movement. Speeches filled with high-flown rhetoric about principles are not enough. And a conservatism that takes its moral bearings from identity politics is worthless. We should be thankful that voters had the sense to stay away from such foolish grandstanding. And we should continue to pray that their minds remain as clear as they were on Election Day.

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