Enter Evan McMullin
, the former CIA staffer and GOP policy wonk, running for the presidency on a Never Trump ticket -- backed by a cabal of Republican donors. This mystery man doesn't stand a chance, of course. He's already too late to get on the ballot in 26 states; even his native Utah will be a struggle
. McMullin isn't just drinking in the Last Chance Saloon. He's banging on the door several weeks after it shut down.
Why, then, is McMullin running? Presumably to carve off enough votes from Trump to punish the GOP for having nominated him. Also to give those who genuinely don't want to choose between Trump and Clinton a serious third option. But if it's the latter, why don't "Never Trump" people just rally around Gary Johnson and the Libertarian ticket -- as Johnson keeps asking them to do?
The answer to that one is simple. Very few conservatives are philosophical libertarians. Conservatives are generally anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, believe in a strong national security and don't see legalizing pot as a major civil rights issue.
The Libertarians might want to imagine themselves as sitting in the middle of the political spectrum -- to the left of the GOP and the right of the Democrats. But the reality is that they are a coalition of the discontented fringes of both parties. And mainstream conservatives are not drawn to what they perceive to be a coalition of hippies and Ayn Rand fans.
When Trump captured the GOP he showed how divided and confused conservatism is. "Never Trump" has failed to offer a serious third-party challenge partly because so many Republicans undermined it by choosing to ally with or try to control the Trump brigade -- but also because it wasn't quite clear what the alternative to The Donald would be.
To conservatives, every alternative looked like a niche. Ted Cruz? Too evangelical. David French, the right-wing writer?
Too neoconservative. Michael Bloomberg? Practically a socialist.
So it actually makes some sense that the Mormons should emerge as a rare, coherent opposition to Trump. To be clear: McMullin is not running as a Mormon and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in politics. But one of McMullin's goals has to be to deprive Trump of Utah's electoral votes.
Many Mormons oppose Trump because he was so rude about Mitt Romney, and Trump did poorly in the Utah caucus. But the disaffection is more than just brand loyalty.
Mormons believe strongly in marital fidelity. They are savvy businesspeople -- and highly ethical with it. They have a history of facing religious persecution, and the church has indicated that any attempt to ban migrants to American on the basis of their faith, including Islam, runs counter to the teachings of founder Joseph Smith.
Mormons are social conservatives. But they're also very cosmopolitan. Most of them learn a second language as part of their mission work and spend time overseas. Utah is fast becoming a bilingual state, trending toward majority "minority" status
in the future. Nativism does not go down well among its people.
As such, we face a great irony. A church that was once regarded with suspicion among mainstream conservatives has actually emerged as a repository of the kind of conservatism once popularized by Ronald Reagan. A conservatism that's deeply religious but also tolerant, pro-free trade and -- most important of all -- obsessed with clean government and ethical politics.
Within a wider movement that increasingly feels morally compromised by its willingness to work with Trump, it's no wonder that a man of McMullin's faith chooses to take a stand.