Of Two Evils, Choose Neither: Evan McMullin for President

“If observed facts of undoubted accuracy will not fit any of the alternatives it leaves open, the system itself is in need of reconstruction.” ~ Talcott Parsons

Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil ~ Jerry Garcia

Of two evils, choose neither. ~ C.H. Spurgeon


Back in July, I wrote a post endorsing Gary Johnson for President. I said at the time that there were three things I could not do in good conscience.

  1. I cannot vote for Donald Trump.
  2. I cannot vote for Hillary Clinton.
  3. I cannot abstain or throw away my ballot away on a meaningless token vote and claim that my disengagement from the process absolves me from responsibility for whoever comes out on top.

I stand by that analysis. We live in a nation of government by the consent of the governed. As such, each of us is responsible for the actions of that government unless we are actively seeking to prevent them. Passivity is tacit consent.

The analysis stands, but the calculus behind it has changed, and with it, my endorsement has changed as well. Gary Johnson is nowhere near as objectionable as Trump or Clinton, but he has made some significant missteps that have called his candidacy into question thoroughly enough that a vote for Johnson now is a meaningless token vote in a way that it was not when I endorsed him.

I wrote – before the debates – that Johnson was the nation’s best chance to get a third-party alternative onto the debate stage, to gain exposure and influence, to *potentially* impact the outcome by siphoning off enough electoral votes to deny either Trump or Clinton a majority, and ultimately, to impact the future direction of the country in electoral cycles down the road.

That was true at the time. It is not true today.

The startlingly effective campaign of Evan McMullin has proven more resilient, and in a vastly shorter period of time, than the Libertarian campaign. While neither man made it onto the debate stage, McMullin has actually gained *more* influence than Johnson (even as Johnson easily remains the more well-known name nationwide). McMullin has accomplished this by proving surprisingly competitive in his home state of Utah – a state with six electoral votes. I initially argued that someone to the GOP’s right (I used the Constitution Party’s Mike Castle as an example at the time) couldn’t have as much impact as the Libertarian candidate because – without Johnson’s centrist appeal to disaffected Democrats –  all he could do is play spoiler for Trump. But in the closing days of this cycle, it seems Hillary Clinton’s abysmal campaign and penchant for corruption have damaged her so significantly that a Trump spoiler may be precisely what is needed to keep both of them away from the levers of power.

A McMullin Presidency, of course, remains an incredibly long shot. But as with Johnson in July, McMullin in November is not entirely out of the question.

How would this happen, theoretically? First, McMullin would have to win Utah. That’s a long enough shot in itself, but he has led in at least one recent poll there, and it is not outside the realm of possibility.

Second, he would have to do so in a way that denied both Trump and Hillary a path to 270 electoral votes and an outright victory. This is where Johnson (had he played his cards better) would have had an advantage over McMullin. The states may hold independent elections, but their voting patterns aren’t independent – they tend to follow predictable relationships in which, if one state votes a certain way, others do so as well. In order for either Johnson or McMullin to deny a majority to both sides, they have to win the “tipping point state,” or something very close to it (that is, the state whose outcome would the election one way or the other in a two-way race). And New Mexico is a much more likely “tipping point state” than Utah. Hillary could conceivably see New Mexico fall out of the “blue” column before Trump locks up 270 electoral votes. But if Trump is doing poorly enough to lose Utah, Hillary is probably doing well enough to reach 270 without it.

But though it’s unlikely, it’s not impossible. Here are a few ways this could work. It probably won’t, but it could. To me, that razor-thin possibility is the difference between voting my conscience and throwing away my vote.

Finally, McMullin would have to convince the House of Representatives to select him as a compromise candidate. This is perhaps the diciest proposition of all, as there is simply no way to calculate how the various members of Congress would decide their votes, how those decisions will impact their various state delegations, and ultimately, how the states themselves would wind up voting. It’s easy – but lazy – to simply assume that since the GOP controls more state delegations, they would obviously swing the election to Trump. But a wide swathe of legislators within his own party find him simply unpalatable. Meanwhile, Democrats who might in other circumstances be horrified at the thought of someone like Evan McMullin as President, might be persuaded that at least he’s not Donald Trump.

There are many ways to guess, but there is simply no way to know.

Let me state up front that McMullin – like any Presidential candidate – is not perfect. He has not outlined positions on the issues that are as adequately fleshed-out as I’d like to see, and I disagree with him on a couple of the ones he has spelled out. That being the case, there is some measure of uncertainty behind my vote, simply because I don’t quote know what he’d do in some cases. The problem is that in Hillary’s case, I’m fairly sure what she would do in any event, and equally sure that I wouldn’t like most of it. In Trump’s case, I’m completely unsure what he’d do in any given circumstance, and there is a distinct possibility that it would be completely disastrous. In McMullin’s case, I have a decent idea what he’d do in many – though not all – cases, and I’m fairly sure I’d agree with him on most – though again, not all – of those decisions. There is also the fact that, in the places where I differ with McMullin, those differences rest on matters of policy, not on matters of basic character and human decency.

That makes the choice easy.

And then there is the long-term to think about. Johnson and the Libertarian party have proven once again that they are more interested in winning the meme count on Facebook than they are in winning the vote count in the Electoral College. This year was their best chance to have a real, genuine impact. They had such a significant opportunity that it’s no exaggeration to say they may not see another one like it in my lifetime.

And they muffed it. They muffed it so badly that, in the closing days of the campaign, the Libertarian nominee for Vice President has given up on the pretense that his camp offers a principled alternative to the two major parties, and is now openly stumping for the Democrat.

McMullin, on the other hand, gives stalwart conservatives a rallying point that they never had with the Libertarian ticket, which always seemed a little bit desperate to prove that neither of them was still a part of that nasty club of Republicans that they both used to belong to. In the years following this election, there *will* be a center-right electoral coalition in this country. It may or may not go by the name “Republican,” but, as Duverger’s Law necessitates, it will exist. That being the case, if it comes down to whether I want the standard bearers of the center-right in the United States to look more like Donald Trump, or more like Evan McMullin, the contest is not even close.

Evan McMullin is on the ballot in Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, South Carolina, Utah, and here in Virginia. This is, of course, most urgent in Utah where McMullin has an actual shot at winning the state’s electoral votes, but it sends an important message elsewhere as well.

Some states count write-in votes as a vote for that candidate. Others do not, and a write-in is merely a wasted vote. Write-ins for McMullin will be tallied in his favor in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Wisconsin, or Wyoming.

If you live in one of these states, I urge you to vote for Evan McMullin.

If you live in a swing state where he is not on the ballot, I urge you to vote strategically, for whatever course of action is most likely to deny both Trump and Hillary the ability to reach 270 electoral votes. Depending on your state, that may mean holding your nose and voting for Trump, or for Hillary.

If you live in a safe state for one party or the other, and in which McMullin is not available on the ballot or as a write-in, I urge you to vote your conscience, whatever that may look like for you.

Here in Virginia, I will be casting my ballot on Tuesday with McMullin’s name in the top spot. Evan McMullin will not win Virginia (or in most of the other places where he is on the ballot), but by voting for him – even in states he cannot win – you and I can accomplish two things:

1) We can send a message to our states’ delegations in the House of Representatives that McMullin has some measure of support among their constituents, should they wind up with the task of choosing the President from among the top three electoral vote winners.

2) We can send a message to the Republican Party leadership that we are not happy with the direction they have taken the GOP – a message that voting for the Libertarian Party and all of its baggage will not send as clearly as voting for McMullin will do. Speaking for myself, I am not happy with the fact that party leadership repeatedly put their thumb on the scale to swing the nomination to Trump. I am not happy that they stymied various attempts at and before the convention to swing the nomination to someone else, and I will not be bullied into going along with their execrable decision simply by being told that Hillary Clinton is worse. There is a distinct possibility that she is worse. But there is also a distinct possibility that she is not. If we had nominated a strong, principled conservative . . . heck, if we had nominated a real Republican instead of a long-time Clinton donor! . . . we wouldn’t be left to wonder.

But we do have to wonder. And people I respect are arriving at very different answers. I have friends on all sides of this particular question, and my various and vociferous disagreements with them have (thankfully) not changed that. Some of my friends are voting enthusiastically for Trump. Some are holding their noses to vote for him in order to stop Clinton. Some are holding their noses to vote for Clinton in order to stop Trump. Some are voting enthusiastically for Clinton.

Each of them has his or her own moral and intellectual calculus that has led them to that point. But it is not mine. As I have said many times, for me, this election is not a choice between the lesser of two evils. It is simply a choice between two evils.

And in the choice between two evils, I choose neither.