No one expects newly declared independent candidate Evan McMullin to become president, let alone get on many ballots or crack one percent in the total vote. Yet his candidacy may still perform below expectations.
He is a stand-in for conservatives who deem Donald Trump fundamentally unfit for office, but also refuse to vote for the activist government policies of Hillary Clinton or the socially liberal, neo-isolationist foreign policies of Libertarian Gary Johnson.
But he could be more than a stand-in. He could be a vehicle for fresh conservative policy ideas that could lay the groundwork for a new Republican Party, which will have to rebuild after the Trump wrecking ball is wheeled back into storage.
One of the reasons why Trump was able to win the nomination with only a plurality of the Republican primary vote is that, as I argued in the New Republic earlier this year, the party leadership failed to reinvigorate the party intellectually after the Bush presidency:
Republicans responded to the failure of the Bush presidency with childish shenanigans instead of adult responsibility. Instead of developing new ideas that proved they learned the lessons of the recent past, they regurgitated the slogans of the Reagan-Bush era. Instead of working constructively with President Obama to show that they could still govern, they made maximum obstructionism their hallmark … Letting the unruly base call the shots, Republicans allowed their party to atrophy intellectually … the unofficial slogan of the Republican primary voter [became] “burn it down.”
But Trump’s anti-intellectual demagoguery doesn’t satisfy all Republicans, especially those who care about policy specifics.
McMullin has a rare opportunity to shape the party’s intellectual future. Not having to worry about winning a primary or the general, he need not be tethered to past orthodoxy. He can blaze his own trail and craft his own platform. If he can at least strike a chord, he would be in the driver’s seat of the post-Trump Republican Party.
But his opening bid is dismal.
The issues page of Evan McMullin is just another example of Republican intellectual atrophy, as it is nearly bereft of issue positions.
McMullin is a former CIA operative, yet his national security page – a big subject! – is three sentences long, though you can find four more similarly empty sentences on the America’s Role in the World” – apparently it would have been unwieldy to consolidate the two pages and make people read seven sentences at once.
His “Jobs and the Economy” page is one sentence longer, offering the Bush-era conservative platitudes that “our tax code should be lean, simple and encourage investment here at home. Government regulations should be reduced to foster a dynamic economy.”
The only thing notable about the Health care page is that it doesn’t mention the word “repeal.” But rest assured, he believes “Obamacare has failed.” What would he do instead? Put “patients, families, and doctors at the heart of health care.” Even Donald Trump has a more detailed health care plan than that!
This is how bad the intellectual rot is inside the conservative movement and Republican Party. Even its alternative to Trump has little of substance to offer. This was true in the primary and remains true today.
Maybe he’ll beef up his policy proposals before Election Day, but he doesn’t have much time; the election is less than 90 days away. And if you’re going to jump in the race this late, you need to hit the ground running. In the battle of ideas, McMullin has only hit the ground.