Evan McMullin was once the chief policy director of the House Republican Conference, but he decided to leave the party after he realised the GOP’s problems “are too deep” to resolve in this generation’s lifetime, he told NBC News. His platform now is based on differentiating himself from the main party candidates, who he argues are more similar than they are different from each other. A similar siren call in Australia – which has proportional voting in its Upper House (Senate) has seen a clutch of smaller parties and independents seize the balance of power from the two major parties, with as yet uncertain results.
The issue is at stake, of course, is have the divisions in the Republican party simply become too overt and too fundamental for it to recover?
“The short-hand is I believe both Trump and Clinton are from the left side of the political spectrum in most ways,” he said. “Both want to grow the size of the government. I’m the only conservative in this race. I favour a limited government.”
His alternative governing views, and his Mormon faith, have attracted so much support among Utah voters that in a survey conducted earlier this week by Salt Lake City-based Y2 Analytics, McMullin was in a statistical tie with Trump and Clinton.
The survey, conducted after lewd comments made by Trump in 2005 surfaced, showed Clinton and Trump tied at 26 percent, McMullin with 22 percent, and Libertarian Gary Johnson holding steady at 14 percent, according to Utah’s Deseret News.
The support, McMullin said, is as much about his policies compared to Clintons’ and Trump’s as it is about his character. “I think the American people know that both of these options are awful, and they’re looking for something better. That [Trump] tape really crystallised that sentiment for a lot of people. I consider myself the opposite of Trump in a lot of ways, both in terms of a lot of policies, and in terms of temperament and judgment,” he said.
McMullin, along with his running mate Mindy Finn, doesn’t have much of a shot at actually getting elected President — he’s only on the ballot in 11 states and a write-in option in 23 others — but political experts say his rise in Utah is notable.
“This is completely different than anything we’ve ever seen,” Christopher Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, told NBC News. “I think there is just widespread frustration with Donald Trump and really with both of the candidates from the two major parties, so Utahns, including many who have typically voted Republican, are casting about for some other alternative.” McMullin, Karpowitz added, fits a “particular set of needs in this state: people who don’t feel like they can in good conscience vote for Trump, but they’re not ready to vote for Hillary Clinton, either.”
But political watchers aren’t ready to predict a win for McMullin in Utah, which hasn’t strayed from its Republican roots since 1964 — even with big-name Republicans such as Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Gov. Gary Herbert withdrawing their support for Trump in recent days.
“I still think it’s unlikely that he takes the state of Utah,” Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. But for Clinton and Trump, he said, “I think it’s going to be closer than anyone could have expected.” And losing the state’s six Electoral Votes could seriously complicate Trump’s ability to win the 270 needed to win the White House.
Whether he wins or not, McMullin says he fears for the future of the GOP.
“I seriously doubt the Republican party is viable as a political vehicle going forward. I think it will shrink in size, I think it might become a white nationalist party if Donald Trump supporters remain active after the election,” he said. “It’s time for a new generation of leadership.”
The interesting thing for anyone who can manage to look at the matter dispassionately is that both major parties in the USA are, of course, coalitions of the willing, but at the moment the Democrats are doing a much better job of yoking together their party, which ranges widely across traditional white collar voters who prefer an interventionists government but who hold conservative social views, socialists, urban radicals, environmentalists, social liberals, right over to really quite conservative characters like Clinton herself. The burying of the hatchet between Clinton and the populist “socialist” Bernie Sanders has been accomplished with panache despite dire predictions of widespread abstentions by his supporters.
The distinct strands in the Republicans include traditional centrists who could easily find common cause with the right of the Democrats, the religious right whose concerns are largely social, hard-right small-government “trickle down” Friendmanites, libertarians who combine far right economics with far left social values, Tea Party populists who detest Washington and want a grab bag of policies that mainly coalesce around “Leave me alone” and “Cut my taxes”, and near-fanatical States’-righters who want to re-write the constitutional settlement altogether.
The difference is that following years of internal strife between the centrist party leadership and the bands of loud and (for some) exceptionally (at least superficially) attractive Tea Party followers, the Republican Party had almost given up any pretence of being one party. And the selection of Trump – an act of political suicide in our view, an opinion we have maintained all along since his unlikely candidacy was touted – has now simply made the split more obvious than ever, as legions of rats leave the sinking ship in droves.
The dire problem for the Republicans is that, as we said, the American electoral system does not reward anything other than the creation of two coherent power blocks. Whereas in Europe you can afford to have a multiplicity of right wing parties trading preferences in a PR system, and then devising a working coalition in Government, the American system simply doesn’t offer that option. And as the system is essentially Presidential, anyway, that election invariably comes down to a choice between two candidates, as this year.
In the days when the contest of ideas in America was basically between two centrist parties, albeit with differing traditions, things were much simpler. But perhaps because of the much greater influence of a massively increased media market constantly deluging us with more and more “opinion”, or perhaps just from a generalised exhaustion amongst the electorate, who feel that both sides have taken them for a rise and the system – as far as them benefitting from it, at least – is broken, those days are over.
We are in uncharted territory. And right now, the Good Ship Republican is the one heading towards the rocks fastest.
And a system permanently leant towards one side of the political compass is not good for democracy, or any country. Those on the right in America need to some some hard thinking.