Prominent conservatives continue to shake their heads in utter disbelief that the Republican Party is now for all intents and purposes the Party of Trump. Writers like Bill Kristol, David French, Erick Erickson and Jay Cost are apoplectic that the Party of Lincoln and Reagan is now being led by a man who is happy taking potshots at members of his own party and playing gutter politics the likes of which would make Reagan roll over in his grave. Conservative columnist George Will has left the Republican Party after decades as a proud member; to Donald Trump and millions of his supporters, good riddance.
But, to borrow a phrase from Lenin (and Chernyshevsky before him), what is to be done? Some #NeverTrump diehards will be crossing party lines and voting for Hillary Clinton in the fall. The launch of an independent conservative candidate in Evan McMullin, however, could in fact persuade some conservatives who have thought about voting for Hillary from taking a second look towards someone who shares their ideology. And they can hardly be faulted for thinking there’s an opening for someone. With the stark exception of a July 21–August 4 Reuters/Ipsos poll that places Donald Trump within three percentage points of Clinton, the Trump campaign has been murdered in virtually every poll released this month. The latest Monmouth University poll puts Clinton ahead of Trump by twelve points nationally (46 percent–34 percent). Another poll from last week has the former Secretary of State ahead by a massive fifteen points (a margin greater than the blowout Reagan-Carter contest). And the battleground states aren't much better for the billionaire: down six in Florida, down fifteen in New Hampshire, and down four in Georgia.
Yet if people were scratching their heads when David French's name was floated as a trial balloon for an alternative conservative candidacy earlier this summer, McMullin's actual candidacy is being greeted with utter confusion. French was a faceless, nameless individual to most Americans, but he at least had a following in conservative circles due to his employment with the National Review, the beacon of conservative politics in America. McMullin is even more obscure than French is; outside of Capitol Hill, no one knows what he stands for and what he aims to achieve. Indeed, before he made his run for president official, McMullin had fewer than 140 Twitter followers. These aren't exactly the kinds of numbers that a person with universal name recognition would have.
This isn't stopping McMullin from at least trying to do something about the Trump phenomenon. You have to admire a guy who is willing to subject himself to national scrutiny and vitriol, even when he has no clear path to the White House. He doesn't respect Donald Trump as a businessman, suggests he's completely ignorant of the world around him, and would lead the country down a gorge if he was given command of the planet's most powerful military. And yet getting behind a candidate who the average American hasn't even heard of—and doing this so late in the race—is only the latest act of desperation from Never Trumpers who will do anything to complicate Trump's electoral map.
In McMullin, dissident conservatives have a candidate who is a former Central Intelligence Agency agent, a former top policy official for the House Republican Conference, and a Republican who is unapologetic about being against Trump's candidacy. But with a little more than a month to go before the first presidential debate, McMullin's bid is an airline seat that converts into a life jacket as the plane crashes into a mountain. It won't save the Republican Party, but it may provide some moral relief.
McMullin's campaign is a symbolic protest vote for the #NeverTrump movement—nothing more.
Daniel R. DePetris has written for CNN.com, Small Wars Journal and the Diplomat.
Image via Evan McMullin/Twitter.