Evan McMullin for President?

Evan McMullin is running a campaign that has no real chance of winning, but conservatives should vote for him out of principle.

Evan McMullin is running a campaign that is bound to lose. Since McMullin decided to enter the race at an exceptionally late time in the election and his name is barely recognizable to most Americans, his chances of winning are exceedingly slim. But McMullin’s quixotic campaign is honorable nevertheless.

Consider this: in this election year, the public faces two highly unpopular (and morally bankrupt) candidates, neither of whom are conservatives. This puts many conservatives in a tough spot this year, since they seemingly have no one to vote for aside from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Trump flip-flops more than any decent, reasonable candidate should — making conservatives weary of him. For example, he seems to have recently changed his position on immigration— saying that he might grant illegal immigrants amnesty instead of deporting them, contrary to his previous statements. Clinton, on the other hand, is at best a moderate progressive, meaning that conservatives should take no comfort in a Clinton presidency either. So many conservatives feel that they need someone that they can vote for in good conscience. McMullin has decided to honorably give them that conscience vote.

But many other conservatives seem to believe that they can actually take comfort in a Trump presidency and are voting for him for various reasons: he isn’t Hillary Clinton, a Trump Supreme Court would be better than a Hillary-appointed one, Trump can be manipulated into legislating conservatively, etc. Yet, there’s no good reason to believe a single word that Trump says, or that his “flexibility” on issues would lend him to a conservative governing vision. If Trump could flip his position on immigration, which was the cornerstone of his campaign, why should we believe that he’ll really appoint originalist justices? He has never once demonstrated any care for conservative ideas. And he barely attempts to hide his indifference to them. The notion that conservatives must vote for Trump to say, save the Supreme Court, is risible for that reason. As Ramesh Ponnuru argued in Bloomberg View, Trump’s lack of knowledge about judicial (and political) matters, his indifference to conservatism, his proclivities to lying and changing opinions, all make his Supreme Court promises (and any other promise he has made) questionable at best.

Trump’s nomination by the Republican Party was undoubtedly a mistake. And it was an avoidable one. There were many other Republican presidential candidates who could have easily beaten Hillary Clinton in a general election had they been nominated (Marco Rubio or John Kasich easily comes to mind). Not once did Trump indicate that he was one of them. His dearth of policy details, temperament, and basic human decency made him the least electable candidate in this year’s extraordinarily crowded but talented field. By nominating him, the GOP essentially positioned itself for destruction in November’s election. Hillary Clinton, for all of her weaknesses, is most likely going to be our next president for that reason. It’s a grim reality that not too many conservatives would like to face.

Because of this, McMullin and anti-Trump conservatives are fighting an uphill battle inside of their party. Obviously it would take a miracle for McMullin to win. If he did, his bid would be truly historic and encouraging for many conservatives (and Americans broadly) who hate the two primary choices before them. But that’s not reality. Most likely one of our country’s two major party nominees is going to win (as is usually the case). McMullin, therefore, is comparable to Gary Johnson or Jill Stein in terms of viability. His candidacy is basically an intriguing sideshow in the year of Trump. And if Trump loses (as many believe he will), then McMullin will be held liable for a Trump loss — especially if Trump loses narrowly. A narrow margin could be easily (albeit unreasonably) pinned on McMullin and his voters as many Republicans will blame him for siphoning votes from the Donald.

But to be blunt, the notion that anti-Trump Republicans will be to blame for Trump’s loss is silly. Any decent presidential candidate understands that he has an obligation to win over voters who may not like him, whether inside or outside of his party; those voters are not necessarily obligated to vote for him. For some reason, many Republicans are assuming the opposite: that their co-partisans have an obligation to Trump. Assuming that anti-Trump Republicans owe their vote to Trump basically assumes that they owe their vote to their party. But parties are vehicles; they are a means of advancing a vision for the good of the country that is broadly held by their members. When a party doesn’t fulfill its obligation to its principles (or to the good of the country) then its members may have a reasonable cause for defecting (or not voting in the way that their party wants them to). This is why arguments from party loyalty are weak and unpersuasive to anti-Trump conservatives. Never Trumpers understand that they have an obligation to their country and to their principles, neither of which Trump seems to care about. So Never Trumpers aren’t wrong or crazy for refusing to obey the party line. The party has (at least temporarily) abandoned its principles in nominating Trump, so Never Trumpers may reasonably refuse to swim upstream with their co-partisans who are comparable to salmon preparing to be eaten by a bear. They can and should resist the stream’s current.

All of that being said, I still haven’t presented a concrete reason to vote for Evan McMullin yet. Thus far, I have simply argued against Trump. At this point in my argument, a pro-Trump conservative might object: “Why shouldn’t I vote for Trump? He has a chance of winning and I know that I can’t trust Hillary to govern conservatively, so why not?” It’s certainly not an unreasonable question. But the question seems to have a certain assumption behind it. That assumption is that somehow your individual vote will swing the election and that if you as an individual refuse to vote Trump, then you’ll be giving Clinton the presidency. But the election won’t be won based on whatever you or anyone else does individually. Each individual vote, on its own, has little significance. My vote will not determine this election, nor will anyone person’s particular vote do so.

To understand why voting for Evan McMullin makes sense, we need to understand something far more rudimentary: the purpose of voting itself. What is voting for? The answer to that lies partially in the outcome of an election for sure. Collectively, voting actually does make a difference in an election. And if people turn out to vote for a third party bid in large numbers, it will certainly have an impact.

The truth however, is that the election won’t be determined by any individual person’s vote. So why vote? Voting is first and foremost a moral act that flows from a sense of patriotism. The conscientious citizen votes because he or she wants to make an impact for the good of his country. While his vote may not do that directly, it certainly works something inside the heart of the person who casts the ballot. A conscientious voter, when he goes to the ballot box, is essentially making a statement that flows from his will. The voter is saying in effect, “I believe this person to be the best of the individuals running for office. I choose him to be president because he will benefit my country.”

This isn’t always so simple of course. Occasionally, we vote for the “lesser of the two evils” out of contempt for both candidates, but also out of grudging toleration for one candidate over the other. But even voting with this kind of consideration has a sense of conscience behind it; the voter believes that he is voting for the man who will best serve his country. Conscientious voting can then be said to be an expression of love for the country. Thomas Aquinas once defined love as the act of willing the good of another. To vote is presumably to will the good (or at least the maximal amount of good) for one’s country. This is why voting is a moral act. Making a conscious decision of who to vote for requires a sense of what is good for the country; it requires at least a sketch of a vision of the good.

This is precisely why voting Evan McMullin makes sense. If you consider that your individual vote isn’t what matters in terms of the election’s outcome, but that your act of voting reflects how much you love your country (and the kind of love and vision that you have for it), then it’s pretty easy to understand why some conservatives will and should opt for McMullin. For them (myself admittedly included), McMullin represents a particular vision for the country. He represents specifically a conservative vision for America — something that neither Trump nor Clinton represents. McMullin, unlike Trump, demonstrates a serious patriotism. The fact that he decided to run as an alternative to two bad candidates as well as his service in the CIA are concrete signs of this. His positions on the issues (albeit briefly stated) demonstrate that he is a firm believer in limited government, the right to life from the moment of conception onward, and he’s serious about appointing originalist justices that would rule in accord with the Constitution. These positions and much more make McMullin a far more attractive conservative candidate than either Clinton or Trump. Moreover, McMullin’s firsthand experience in the CIA makes him at once a compelling and a serious consideration as our commander-in-chief. Unlike Clinton, he’s not known to have put national security at risk during his career in national intelligence. Unlike Trump, he actually knows about what’s going on in American politics.

And above all, McMullin is a man of conscience. He explicitly felt a moral obligation to run for president. He opened up his campaign website saying, “It’s never too late to do the right thing,” an allusion to his belief that it’s not too late for him to run against Clinton and Trump since they are immoral candidates. An American conservative of good conscience should have no problem voting for McMullin for the simple reason that regardless of this election’s outcome, a vote for McMullin would be a vote for a genuine conservatism. It’s a vote for conscience, a vote for principle.

Matthew Franck, a political scientist, wrote in a terrific essay last month that an individual should vote as if his vote shapes nothing aside from the state of his own character. This makes sense given that an individual vote won’t shape an election: your individual vote doesn’t effect anything outside of your character anyway. So make sure that you form your character well. And you can start by voting for Evan McMullin for president.