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Here is a trivia question that no one will get right in the coming years:
Name a Republican candidate for president in 2016 who attracted the support of once-principled conservatives who betrayed their long-held beliefs out of tribal hate, who abused his staff after the campaign was over, grandstanded on Twitter to no discernible purpose, and may have committed campaign finance violations, all while pretending to be the voice of a frustrated nation.
You can just imagine a frizzy-haired, bespectacled left-winger frantically raising his hand and shouting “Donald Trump” in response to this question, can’t you? Alas, as in everything else, he would be wrong. The correct answer is “Evan McMullin.”
A devastating new report from The Daily Caller has the gory details:
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) sent numerous letters to the McMullin for President Committee over the last year warning that the organization risks fines for failing to file and for making errors on financial statements it did manage to submit.
McMullin’s committee was nearly $645,000 in debt just after the 2016 presidential election, according to a financial statement the group filed with the FEC in December 2016. By July 2017, that amount had increased to nearly $670,000.
That was the last financial statement McMullin’s committee filed. Since then, the organization has missed three deadlines, including one that passed [a week ago] Sunday. The FEC, consequently, has sent the group warnings that it could face penalties if it doesn’t provide the necessary information.
How McMullin’s failed campaign could possibly pay back this debt is a question for the ages, its having produced nothing of value except conservatives who regret voting for Evan McMullin and now say nicer things about Donald Trump.
But wait! It gets worse! The Daily Caller also reports that McMullin apparently hasn’t even paid his campaign staff, at least not the one who in this article described McMullin as a remorseless grandstander with no concern for his followers, and no strategy. Wow.
And so, in celebration of the oncoming legal examination that McMullin’s campaign seems to be facing, I think American Greatness deserves to have a little fun and perform a colonoscopy of its own on the hapless True Conservative™. Contrary to the word “colonoscopy” implies, I have no particular fascination with McMullin’s rear end, though it’s possible he may feel differently about that particular form of anatomy.
No, I call this piece a colonoscopy because, in order to understand the mind of Evan McMullin, one must go where his head evidently resides.
To understand how we got to the point of having to devote an entire article to the fall of this dime store Icarus, we have to acknowledge that Evan McMullin’s run for the presidency was never supposed to happen. Staffers in the House of Representatives don’t usually make the jump up the career ladder so fast.
For the forces that backed him, McMullin was not the first, the second, or even the third choice for his appointed task—namely, to prevent Donald Trump from winning the presidency in the name of donor-driven True Conservatism™. Rather, the forces that supported McMullin leaped from one anti-Trump hero to another, starting with the plaintive-sloganed Jeb!, continuing with the vapid dreamboat Marco Rubio, and finally ending up desperately lining up behind Ted Cruz because at least he went on their cruises.
What separates McMullin’s backers from other Jeb!, Rubio, or Cruz supporters, however, was their total unwillingness to accept that sometimes a primary just wouldn’t go their way. In many cases, this was because they belonged to a class of people for whom losing wasn’t supposed to happen because of who they were. This was particularly true of Bill Kristol, arguably the man who built what little meager infrastructure there was for McMullin, hoping to put up someone, anyone, who would stop the GOP from rejecting its self-appointed neoconservative establishment rulers, and their domesticated coterie of social conservatives, who, goshdarnit, were just too Christian and principled to limit immigration, or to attack the interests of major metropolitan donor industries.
And so it was that people who had never had to fight to win a primary decided they were going to try and fight back against someone whose only experience was winning a primary he was never supposed to win by sheer force of will. First, they did it by attempting to force a brokered convention, which presumably would have produced someone like Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan as the nominee. All they accomplished was screaming helplessly from the floor of the RNC like a certain highly distressed member of the #Resistance.
Not to be deterred, they then decided to follow in the august footsteps of George Wallace and John Anderson, and run a third party protest candidate to ensure that no True Conservative™ would have to sully his or herself with a vote for Donald Trump. And for a while, their push looked like it might be something to worry about. Names like Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, or even future Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis were bandied about with excitement. That is, until Romney, Sasse, and Mattis got wind of it and quickly made it plain that on no account were they involved in this, and would you please stop calling, Bill Kristol?!
But even after this, McMullin still wasn’t the first choice. That honor went to the august National Review columnist David French, who entertained the idea for just long enough to get a segment on Fox News complaining about how rude Trump supporters were. Then he promptly fled.
Only then, and finally, after casting about in the “darkness” of the dawning Age of Trump, the disappointed neoconservative Captain Ahabs realized they had to run someone if they wanted to look serious. Enter Evan McMullin, former House Republican Conference Chief Policy Director, former CIA agent, former investment banker, and man with nothing better to do because he was possibly the only unmarried Mormon over the age of 19 in Washington. And so, NeverTrump looked at McMullin, squinted, thought he looked enough like David French, and said: “OK, fine, you’ll do.”
Of course, quite rapidly it became clear that the chances of McMullin actually becoming president were someplace between zero and hahahahahahahaha . . . wait, what? But becoming president was no longer the point. It was all about sinking Trump, to prove to those awful populists who had dared to think for themselves, and not the way Bill Kristol and Bill Kristol’s donors wanted them to think, that they were servants, and could never live in the Big House as equals.
And so, a simple strategy for denying Trump the presidency was devised: McMullin would try to carve away enough of his voters in states with high Mormon populations so that even if Trump won a couple of swing states, the losses among Mormons would cancel out Trump’s victory. Whether McMullin won those states, or Clinton won them, was beside the point—which was, and only ever was, to hurt Trump. And, for a few moments, the strategy looked like it might work in Utah, right up until the Mormons thought it through, realized how much trouble they’d gone through making themselves part of the Republican coalition in the first place, and decided they’d rather not self-excommunicate for the sake of panicked Beltway grifters. Ultimately, McMullin came in third in Utah, behind even Hillary Clinton. But hey, at least he got the votes of all the conservative intellectuals who were too uptight to vote for Gary Johnson.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. For NeverTrump, you’d think that would be the end of it, wouldn’t you?
Well, for most McMullin voters, it was. But McMullin himself, and the few diehards who still couldn’t accept that they weren’t the dominant intellectual force in the Republican Party anymore, this was just a new beginning of something even more embarrassing: the attempt to force Donald Trump out of office.
Within days of Trump’s victory, McMullin warned that “The Republican Party can no longer be considered the home for conservatives.” Within a month of Trump’s victory, McMullin opined that Trump was “not a loyal American.” A month later, he accused Trump outright of being a foreign agent. A month after that, he defended intelligence leaks, claiming “by oath, intelligence officials’ first duty is to ‘defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,’” implying that the intelligence bureaucracy had not just the right, but duty, to try to remove the duly elected president of the United States for disagreeing with them. A month after that, he hinted that he had secret information proving Trump was a Russian spy, no doubt leaked to him by Louise Mensch.
But it wasn’t just words. Just five days after Trump’s inauguration, McMullin started an organization called “Stand Up Republic.” Its goals? “Investigate Trump’s Ties to Moscow,” “Establish a Select Committee,” “Sanction Russia Now,” “Release [Trump’s] Tax Returns,” and “Protect Mueller’s Investigation.” In other words, support any and all processes or information that might drive Trump from office.
To this day, McMullin defends the unprecedented scandal of Clinton campaign opposition research being used to open a counterintelligence investigation into President Trump. “If you cooperate with a foreign power to influence our elections,” he tweeted, “you can expect people in that country and in our own to reveal it to your opponents, civic organizations, and the American law enforcement and intelligence communities. And that’s exactly the way it should be.” By implication, we can conclude that McMullin believes in the Steele dossier in its entirety. No word on whether he also believes the world is flat.
Which brings us back to the scandals engulfing McMullin now, and the massive self-made petard upon which he has been hoisted.
Truly, the fact that McMullin’s “campaign” was a debt-ridden mess, that his current organization is a sinking ship that can’t even pay rats to steer it, and that McMullin himself is precisely the sort of grandstanding, conscienceless threat to republican ideals of self-government that he accuses of Trump of being, ranks as one of the least surprising truths to be confirmed in years. His campaign deserves no cash, its legal failings deserve no mercy, and he deserves no pity. Neither do those who propped him up, for the sake of their own bruised egos and emptying wallets.
As for those who supported him, whether because of misguided zealotry or misinformation? Well, perhaps they deserve a scrap of our understanding and compassion, though not much more than that. In their rush to support a “patriotic” intelligence community hero who was also a True Conservative ™, they ended up enabling a vapid, narcissistic, sanctimonious human pool cue.
If the story of Evan McMullin’s success can be summed up with one indictment, is that Bush-era credulity toward seemingly upstanding young men who are trying to Keep Us Safe permitted many Republican voters and intellectuals to forget that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Though at this point, I’ll grant McMullin’s supporters that he’s too dull to be a scoundrel.
One thing, however, he proves beyond dispute: True Conservatism ™ is the last refuge of a sponge.
Photo credit: George Frey/Getty Images