Let's pretend for a minute that Donald Trump existed without the overt misogyny. Let's pretend there's no Muslim ban, no wall, no insults of John McCain and Paul Ryan and Kelly Ayotte, no discussions of African American communities as places where you might get shot just for walking down the street. Let's sift through the remains of his candidacy even when you strip away all of the ugliness.
As a moderate conservative Republican, I still don't have a candidate in this election. Trump doesn't believe in limiting the power of the federal government, and he certainly doesn't believe in limiting the power of the executive branch. He talks about running the government like a business, but I've heard nothing that indicates a focus on fiscal responsibility, efficiency, or transparency. He talks about protecting the Constitution, but I've heard nothing about maintaining the proper balance between the states and the federal government (save for a lame reference to returning abortion laws to the states) or maintaining the proper balance among the branches of the federal government.
Even if he weren't offensive to nearly every demographic in our society, Donald Trump isn't a conservative and could not be my candidate.
Now, let's pretend for a minute that I did not have serious concerns about the Clintons' path to power and wealth, that Hillary Clinton properly maintained her email system while at the State Department. Let's pretend that there are no Wall Street speeches, that Bill had no history of sexual misconduct and there were no corresponding questions about Hillary's treatment of the women involved. Let's pretend all of the Clinton scandals and pseudo-scandals, legitimately questionable conduct and conspiracy theories have all been wiped away. And let's focus on the fact that I would love nothing more than to be supporting the first serious woman candidate in our country's history, that I would desperately love to see a woman in the Oval Office.
I still don't have a candidate. Clinton talks about the federal government as a problem-solver of first resort. She talks about building on the Affordable Care Act (a system that I believe is well-intended and deeply flawed). She talks about continuing President Obama's legacy, which makes me fear additional expansion of executive power and a continuation of rudderless foreign policy (let me be clear--I fear that from Trump, too, probably even more so). And in the last debate, she talked about using the Supreme Court as an instrument to fight corporations.
I tried very hard to bring myself to Hillary Clinton during this cycle. I watched every Democratic primary debate. I sat through four days of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, an event which I experienced as a feat of production and ultimately an emotionally-manipulative political revival. And I listen every day as Democrats explain to me that a vote for anyone but Hillary is a vote for Trump, and a vote for Trump is a vote for hate and intolerance and the end of the republic as we know it.
But, I want to vote FOR a candidate, and I cannot bring myself to vote FOR Hillary Clinton.
So I turned my attention to Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, two men with impressive histories (as listeners to our podcast know, I'm a big fan of governors running for president) and temperaments that I admire. I find quite a bit of common ground with them, and I appreciate their honesty, candor, and conviction. But the Aleppo Moment ended this pursuit for me. It was not gotcha journalism. It was not an unfair setup. As much as I like and respect Gary Johnson, I do not believe that he is prepared to be our Commander in Chief.
I had overlooked Evan McMullin, mostly because I understood his strategy to be about the Mountain West. When he made it onto Kentucky's ballot, I quietly started to take a harder look. Then I started binging on podcast interviews with him. And now finally, FINALLY!, I find myself with a general election candidate I can proudly support. Here's why:
Evan McMullin is prepared to be our Commander in Chief. I usually am not a fan of people thinking, "maybe I'll seek public office...I know! I'll run for President first." But, McMullin served our country in the Central Intelligence Agency. He was part of efforts to locate Osama bin Laden. He understands the complexity of the situation in Syria. He discusses the need for a comprehensive U.S. strategy in the Middle East and clear communication with Turkey and the Kurds. He talks about the importance of our alliances. He calls out Russia for its aggressive and unacceptable conduct. He sees Russian espionage and the Russian governments' interest in our elections for what they are. I believe a McMullin administration would build a sustainable, ethical, and responsible foreign policy.
He represents the core of my values. Conservatism has become synonymous with heartlessness thanks to failed leadership from our party coupled with a piling on from Democrats, journalists, and Hollywood. Listen to McMullin talk about poverty (he is fully with Arthur Brooks and cites the ways many inner cities are so strangled by local regulations that it's impossible for people to start new businesses, for example). Listen to him talk about the Black Lives Matter movement (I highly recommend his interview with Jonathan Capehart on Cape Up) and his understanding of privilege. Listen to him talk about the unacceptable way Donald Trump talks about women and people of color. I hear in his words and see in his proposed policies the respect that I feel for all people.
He knows the public and private sectors. After serving the CIA, McMullin received an MBA from Wharton and did a stint at Goldman Sachs. I know...I know; we're all sick of Wharton and Wall Street. But here's the thing, McMullin realizes that policy-makers need to know both government and business. Policymakers should have experiences that help them understand what the effects of their policies will be. And from his time at Goldman Sachs, he has concluded that our large financial institutions, like all institutions of great power, require closer scrutiny and more accountability. I value this experience and perspective.
He knows what he's talking about. This would seem to be a low bar, but (a) not in 2016, and (b) this is a genuinely intelligent, thoughtful person. McMullin has been wholly ignored by traditional media. There is a gift in media casting him aside: McMullin is giving long, wide-ranging interviews on podcasts. He can and will tackle any topic. He frequently corrects misstatements regarding process and procedure, and he does that respectfully and accurately. He has ideas, and he respects the ideas of others. I listen to McMullin and feel confident that he has the intellectual prowess and curiosity required of our President.
He has prioritized conviction and country over party. McMullin worked for House Republicans (specifically Cathy McMorris Rodgers). It took real courage for him to step out as an Independent candidate while Republican leadership was telling all of us to rally around Trump (despite this and that, and oh, that too). He did this with no name ID at all, and he continues to fight with limited resources. He's honest about the hail Mary nature of his candidacy. He's honest about how unlikely it is that he will win. He's honest about the need for a new party that discards the baggage and weakness and ineffectiveness and obstruction of the Republican Party. And he's willing to carry that mantle.
Is Evan McMullin wasting this presidential run? Absolutely not. His candidacy sends a message to the GOP that I hope it will at least consider after Clinton's landslide victory. His candidacy provides a vehicle for new conversations about what it means to be conservative in the modern era. His candidacy demonstrates the importance of doing something when you're unhappy with what others have done. Evan McMullin's candidacy is not a waste, and neither is my vote for him.